‘Democratically unacceptable’ if Scotland leaves EU, says Sturgeon

Scottish Remain vote could prompt independence poll as early as 2018

The symbolism was crystal clear. Nicola Sturgeon addressed the press yesterday morning flanked by a Scottish Saltire and the European Union's starry standard.

There was not a union flag in sight at Bute House in Edinburgh as the Scottish National Party leader declared that a second referendum on independence was "very likely". It was, Sturgeon said, "democratically unacceptable" that Scotland – having voted by 62 per cent to 38 to remain – was now heading out of the EU.

For a naturally cautious politician, this was a bold intervention more in keeping with her predecessor Alex Salmond, who less than two years earlier in the same venue had resigned after losing a referendum on Scottish independence.

That vote was supposed to be a “once in a generation” opportunity – now it seems Scots could be back in the polling stations as early as 2018.


Scottish nationalists went into May’s devolved Scottish elections – in which they won an unprecedented third consecutive term in government – on a manifesto pledge that a second referendum would be considered only if there was a “significant and material change in circumstances” since the 2014 referendum.

Yesterday, Sturgeon announced that Brexit constituted such a material change. “It is, therefore, a statement of the obvious that a second referendum must be on the table, and it is on the table,” Scotland’s first minister said.

Sturgeon said she would seek urgent talks with the European Commission and other European member states to make clear that the country wanted to remain within the EU.

“I want to make it absolutely clear today that I intend to take all possible steps and explore all options to give effect to how people in Scotland voted. In other words, to secure our continuing place in the EU and in the single market in particular,” she said.

Earlier, Alex Salmond had said he was certain Sturgeon would call for a second Scottish independence referendum after the UK voted to leave the EU.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said that Brexit did not justify holding another independence referendum.

"I believe in Scotland's place within the United Kingdom today as much as ever," she said.

Legal obstacles

Sturgeon stopped short of confirming that a second vote on independence will be held. But a senior SNP source said that a White Paper making a fresh case for independence could be published next spring, with a referendum to follow.

The SNP will hope that many No voters who want to remain in the EU can be convinced to vote for independence. The Better Together coalition that won in 2014 is substantially weaker, and polling suggests that a Brexit vote would make some Scots more likely to leave the UK. The rise of English nationalism could aid their cause.

Sturgeon, however, would not be guaranteed to win another referendum.

Many of the questions that dogged the nationalists during the 2014 campaign remain, particularly around currency and North Sea oil and gas.

There could be legal obstacles to a second Scottish referendum, too.

The union between England and Scotland is a matter reserved to Westminster under the 1998 Scotland Act that created the devolved Edinburgh parliament. The 2014 referendum was held under a temporary licence that has since expired.


“Arguably it is not within the Scottish Parliament’s legislative competency to call another independence referendum,” says

Andrew Tickell

, a constitutional lawyer at Glasgow Caledonian University.

David Cameron’s successor would almost certainly have to grant the Holyrood parliament the authority to hold another vote. A new Conservative prime minister would likely be hostile towards a referendum that could break-up of the UK.

One person in Scotland who was receptive to the UK leaving the EU was Donald Trump. Speaking at the reopening of his Turnberry golf course yesterday, the prospective Republican nominee hailed Brexit as "a great thing".

“It’s an amazing vote, very historic,” he said.

“People are angry all over the world. They’re angry over borders, they’re angry over people coming into the country and taking over and nobody even knows who they are.

“They’re angry about many, many things in the UK, the US and many other places. This will not be the last.”