Scotland is going to vote again on leaving the UK because Brexit
Once again the United Kingdom’s future is in doubt, after Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed plans Monday to seek a second referendum on Scottish independence before Britain leaves the European Union.
Claiming “the language of partnership has gone,” Scottish National Party leader Sturgeon said she would seek the Scottish assembly’s approval for the referendum next week. She made the announcement at a news conference in Edinburgh, as the British government prepares to kick off the two-year process of withdrawing Britain from the EU.
Sturgeon has repeatedly floated the possibility of a second referendum on Scottish independence since Britain voted in June to leave the E.U. – a result which went against the wishes of 62 percent of voters in Scotland, one of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom.
Sturgeon said Scottish voters should be able to decide whether the country should remain in the U.K. as it pursues a so-called “hard Brexit” from the European Union; or forge its own path as an independent country, free to negotiate its own relationship with the world’s biggest market.
“It is not just our relationship with Europe that is at stake,” she said. “What is at stake is what sort of country we become.”
She said her attempts to talk to the government in London about a potential compromise deal under which Scotland could remain in the UK but retain special access to the single market had hit a “brick wall of intransigence.” “I cannot pretend a compromise agreement is remotely likely,” Sturgeon continued.
A second independence referendum, following the messy and fractious attempt of 2014 that was defeated by 55 percent of voters, would drastically raise the stakes of Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union, potentially resulting in the breakup of a 310-year-old political allegiance.
Sturgeon said that Scottish voters in 2014 did not know that the United Kingdom would be leaving the E.U. and said she believed that they would choose independence if a second referendum was held.
The proposed independence referendum would be held some time between late 2018 and early 2019 – once the terms of Brexit were clear, but before Britain’s departure from the E.U. took place.
Polling suggests Scottish public opinion is closely divided on the independence question. Recent data from the polling website What Scotland Thinks says 52% of Scottish voters back remaining in the UK, suggesting support for independence is at a similar level to what it was in 2014. Polls also suggest a majority of Scottish voters would object to a referendum being held ahead of Brexit, as Sturgeon has proposed, since they would not have a clear idea of what they were voting on.
Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party which holds about a quarter of seats in the Scottish Parliament, said Sturgeon had “ignored the majority in Scotland who do not want a referendum” and had “decided instead to double down on division and uncertainty.”
Nicola Sturgeon has today chosen the path of further division and uncertainty. We will vote against any request for a Section 30 next week.
— Ruth Davidson (@RuthDavidsonMSP) March 13, 2017
“People have said time and time again they do not want to go back to the division of a second referendum,” she said.
Sturgeon’s timetable would “force people to vote blind on the biggest political decision a country could face,” said Davidson.
The Scottish Parliament must ultimately receive approval from the British Parliament in Westminster to hold a second referendum, which would need to be granted under Section 30 of the Scotland Act. The timing and framing of the referendum will likely be subject to heated debate.
A U.K government spokesperson responded to Sturgeon’s comments shortly after her press conference: “Only a little over two years ago people in Scotland voted decisively to remain part of our United Kingdom in a referendum which the Scottish government defined as a ‘once in a generation’ vote. The evidence clearly shows that a majority of people in Scotland do not want a second independence referendum. Another referendum would be divisive and cause huge economic uncertainty at the worst possible time.”
Cover: Associated Press