Scotland looks to hold second referendum on independence

Nicola Sturgeon pledges voters alternative to a hard Brexit with poll by early 2019

  Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland: “The language of partnership has gone, completely.” Photograph: Robert Perry/EPA

Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland: “The language of partnership has gone, completely.” Photograph: Robert Perry/EPA


Nicola Sturgeon has set Scotland on course for a second referendum, promising to offer Scots “a choice between a hard Brexit and becoming an independent country”. The first minister will next week seek approval from the Scottish parliament for a referendum, which she said could be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.

  Ms Sturgeon needs the agreement of the British government to hold a binding referendum but she said the decision was one for Scotland to make.

  “The UK government was clear in 2014 that an independence referendum should be, in their words, ‘made in Scotland, by the people of Scotland’ – that is a principle that should be respected today. The detailed arrangements for a referendum – including its timing – should be for the Scottish parliament to decide,” she said.

  In response to Ms Sturgeon’s statement, Downing Street said a second independence referendum would be divisive and economically damaging for Scotland but stopped short of threatening to block it.

  “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,” a spokesman said.

Scottish concerns

The first minister said that, although Scotland voted by 62 per cent to 38 per cent to remain in the EU in last year’s referendum, Theresa May had shown no willingness to compromise to address Scottish concerns about Brexit.

  “UK membership of the single market was ruled out with no prior consultation with the Scottish government or with the other devolved administrations, leaving us facing not just Brexit, but a hard Brexit. And far from any prospect of significant new powers for the Scottish parliament, the UK government is becoming ever more assertive in its intention to muscle in on the powers we already have. The language of partnership has gone, completely,” Ms Sturgeon said.

  She said she would continue to stand up for Scotland’s interests during the Brexit negotiations but that Scotland must have a choice at the end of the process between following the rest of the UK into a hard Brexit or becoming independent. She said the referendum should be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, when the shape of the final Brexit deal has become clear.

  The European Commission on Monday restated its position that an independent Scotland would have to reapply for EU membership, even if it leaves the UK before Britain leaves the EU. Some EU member states, notably Spain, are likely to resist Scotland’s accession to the EU, fearing it would encourage secessionist movements elsewhere.

Sequence of votes

Ms May is unlikely to block a second independence referendum for Scotland but she could seek to delay it until after Britain leaves the EU. Conservatives believe that if Scotland has already left the EU, it is less likely to vote to leave the United Kingdom too.

  Labour and the Conservatives said they would vote against a second referendum in the Scottish parliament next week, although Jeremy Corbyn said he would not seek to block it at Westminster.

  “Labour believes it would be wrong to hold another so soon and Scottish Labour will oppose it in the Scottish parliament. If, however, the Scottish parliament votes for one, Labour will not block that democratic decision at Westminster,” the Labour leader said.

  Scotland voted in 2014 by 55 per cent to 45 per cent to remain part of the UK. A poll this week put support for independence at 48 per cent, with 52 per cent against.