Nicola Sturgeon: British EU exit could bring another independence vote

First minister says Scotland cannot leave union ‘against its will’

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned a British exit from the European Union could lead to another Scottish independence referendum.

In a speech on the upcoming British referendum on EU membership this morning in Brussels, the head of the Scottish National Party said most Scottish people were in favour of staying in the European Union, and that continuing EU membership is vital for the Scottish economy.

"I believe unequivocally that membership of the European Union is in Scotland's best interest," Ms Sturgeon told the European Policy Centre.

"Polls in Scotland consistently show strong support for continued EU membership. . . .The fundamental vision of the European Union, of independent nations working together for a common good, appeals to us."

Noting that less than 2 per cent of voters in last year’s Scottish independence referendum had voted for eurosceptic parties, Ms Sturgeon warned the failure of the British government to take on board the will of the Scottish people could lead to a “groundswell, a clamour for another independence referendum”.

Warning of a "backlash" in Scotland should Britain choose to exit the European Union she called on the British government to include a "double majority provision" in the referendum, which would only allow the United Kingdom to exit the European Union if each nation supports the decision.

“Scotland can’t be taken out of the European Union against its will. In a multi-national state . . . no one member of that family should be forced out against its will.”

Ms Sturgeon also called on the British government to extend voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds in the referendum, while criticising the decision by the Conservative government to limit voting rights in the referendum only to Commonwealth and EU citizens from Ireland, Malta and Cyprus.

Only allowing UK residents from three of the EU’s 28 member states to vote was “unfair, undemocratic and unjustifiable,” she said.

The British government is due to hold a referendum on EU membership by 2017, following the Conservative Party’s victory in the British general election next month.

Prime Minister David Cameron visited a number of EU capitals last week in a bid to seek political support for a renegotiated relationship for Britain with the European Union. A key focus of the negotiations will be whether London can secure the changes it is seeking within the limits of the existing EU treaty.

In her address this morning in Brussels, Ms Sturgeon said she believed the reforms demanded by Britain could be achieved within the framework of the existing EU treaties. She also strongly criticised the British government’s plans to abolish the European Convention of Human Rights.

While indicating the Scottish National Party would campaign strongly for Britain to remain in the European Union, she said that her party would welcome some reforms of the EU system.

“The European Union should allow member states more autonomy to tackle pressing problems”, she said, citing public policy and healthcare. The Scottish government would also call for more regulatory reform, she said, such as allowing regulations on policies such as the common fisheries policy to be made at a regional rather than EU level.

“Regulations should be based on the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity,” she said.

Ms Sturgeon said although she believed there was an argument for holding a debate about migrants’ access to benefits, any attempt to undermine EU freedom of movement rules would be a difficult step to take, both for her party and for other EU member states.

Urging the British government to take part in the EU’s relocation and resettlement proposals for migrants, she said Scotland would take its fair share of refugees.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent