Nicola Sturgeon to Seek Second Scottish Independence Referendum Over Brexit

Nicola Sturgeon
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Pitlochry, Scotland, February 6. Sturgeon is seeking a second referendum on Scottish independence. Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Updated: Nicola Sturgeon will begin the process of securing a second referendum on Scottish independence after growing dissatisfaction within the Scottish government with the direction of Brexit talks.

The country's first minister will seek the Scottish parliament's backing for her plans next week. She will then ask the U.K. government's formal permission to hold a plebiscite.

Sturgeon said at a press conference Monday that she would continue to engage with the U.K. government over strategy for the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

But, Sturgeon said, she "cannot pretend" that a compromise that would give the Scottish government what it wants within the U.K. looks "remotely likely."

The Scottish government had asked either that the U.K. remain within the EU single market after Brexit or that an arrangement be made for Scotland to stay part of the trading bloc even if the rest of the U.K. leaves it. Neither result appears to be forthcoming from Prime Minister Theresa May.

As such, Sturgeon said, Scotland had to decide whether it wants to be married to whatever deal with the EU the U.K. government negotiates, even though its people did not vote for Brexit.

Sturgeon wants the referendum to take place between fall 2018 and spring 2019.

This would, she said, represent a point in the Brexit negotiations where the details of a post-Brexit U.K. would be "clearer than they are now," but before it becomes "too late" for an independent Scotland to try and forge a new deal for itself with the EU.

A U.K. government spokesman said: "As the prime minister has set out, the U.K. government seeks a future partnership with the EU that works for the whole of the United Kingdom.

"The U.K. government will negotiate that agreement, but we will do so taking into account the interests of all of the nations of the U.K.

"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.

"The Scottish government should focus on delivering good government and public services for the people in Scotland."

Brexit negotiations are set to begin as early as this week, depending on when May formally notifies the EU of Britain's desire to leave. They are then expected to wrap up in spring 2019.

The last Scottish independence referendum, in 2014, ended two years of ferocious political debate, with 55 percent of the country voting to remain part of the U.K., and 45 percent voting to leave it.

The result was supposed to settle the matter "for a generation" and saw the resignation of pro-independence First Minister Alex Salmond.

But when Sturgeon's Scottish National Party (SNP) was re-elected to the devolved Scottish government in 2016, its manifesto allowed for it to call a referendum if either there was a clear sign that support for independence had grown, or if there was a substantial change in Scotland's circumstances.

Sturgeon has repeatedly made clear that the U.K.-wide vote to leave the EU, and its contrast with Scotland's vote to remain, represents the latter.

Most polls suggest that public opinion in Scotland is almost evenly split on the issue, with a BMG poll on March 12 putting support for independence at 48 percent, and for the union with the rest of the U.K. at 52 percent.

This article has been updated to include a statement from the U.K. government.

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