Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Wednesday announced plans for a second referendum on Scottish independence before 2021, less than five years after Scots rejected the vote on separating from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Sturgeon, leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party, cited the uncertainty around Britain’s departure from the European Union as a motivating factor for the push.
“If we are to safeguard Scotland’s interests, we cannot wait indefinitely. That is why I consider that a choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation should be offered in the lifetime of this Parliament,” she told Scottish lawmakers in Holyrood.
The next Scottish election is scheduled for May 2021.
“If Scotland is taken out of the E.U., the option of a referendum on independence within that timescale must be open to us. That would be our route to avoiding the worst of the damage Brexit will do,” she said
Scotland voted to remain within the United Kingdom in a 2014 referendum by a vote of 55-45 percent, but a majority of the country also voted to remain within the European Union in 2016 by a margin of 62-38 percent -- although the U.K. as a whole voted to leave.
It has led Sturgeon and others in favor of independence to argue that Scotland is being taken out of the E.U. without its permission -- giving them a reason for a second referendum.
That process has been dogged by complications and delays, with the U.K. Parliament voting down Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement multiple times, leading to a delay of Britain’s departure until as late as Oct. 31. That vote has also seen calls for a second referendum amid the lengthy delay.
Any push for Scottish independence would require approval by the British government. May’s government has consistently rebuffed calls for a second Brexit referendum, saying that such a move would be a betrayal of the British people’s vote. It would, therefore, be unlikely to also grant a second Scottish referendum, particularly as May’s Conservative Party has been consistently opposed to Scottish independence, although May's predecessor David Cameron's government agreed to the 2014 referendum.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell said in a statement Wednesday that Scots "voted decisively in 2014 to remain part of the U.K., on a promise that the referendum would settle the issue for a generation."
"Instead of respecting that result, Nicola Sturgeon continues to press for divisive constitutional change when it is clear that most people in Scotland do not want another independence referendum," he said. "The UK government will stand up for them."