Scotland Plans Independence Vote in 2023 Amid Discontent About U.K. Leaving European Union

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced tentative plans to hold an independence vote in 2023 as residents remain displeased about the U.K. leaving the European Union, the Associated Press reported. Sturgeon said that she "will resume in earnest" her drive to secede from the U.K. in 2022 unless the COVID-19 pandemic causes further disruptions to the campaign.

"Next year, COVID permitting, as we emerge from winter into spring, the campaign to persuade a majority of people in Scotland that our future will be more secure as an independent nation will resume in earnest," Sturgeon said. "In the course of next year, I will initiate the process necessary to enable a referendum before the end of 2023. And just as importantly, our party will set out afresh the positive case for independence."

Though 55 percent of Scotland's voters supported remaining in the U.K. in a 2014 referendum, a later vote saw the country switch course. While 52 percent of U.K. voters overall backed leaving the EU in a 2016 referendum, 62 percent of Scottish voters favored remaining in the bloc, the AP reported.

Sturgeon argues that Scotland was forced to leave the EU against its will, but another vote in 2023 would depend on a binding agreement with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government. Johnson has maintained that he would refuse to agree to such a referendum, which could potentially push the issue into courts if Sturgeon continues to pursue the decisive vote, according to the AP.

Sturgeon announced the plans during a speech at the Scottish National Party Conference, which focused heavily on the newly-identified omicron variant of COVID-19. Some opposing politicians chided the leader's decision to bring up independence as the world works to address and learn about the mutated strain, Politico reported.

"It is deeply disappointing and irresponsible, in the face of a deepening public health crisis, that the focus of the first minister is once more on sowing division between Scotland and the rest of the U.K.," Scottish Labour Deputy Leader Jackie Baillie said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Scotland Plans Independence Vote
Scotland’s leader says she will renew her push for independence from the United Kingdom next year, with the aim of holding a referendum on secession in 2023. Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks at a session inside the venue of the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 9, 2021. Alberto Pezzali/AP Photo

Sturgeon says the fact that voters in May elected an independence-supporting majority to the Scottish parliament — where the SNP governs with support from the pro-independence Green Party — makes an inarguable moral case for a new referendum.

But she acknowledges that independence supporters will have to make a new economic argument for breaking away from the U.K. In 2014, the SNP touted Scotland's North Sea oil wealth as a bulwark of future prosperity. The Scottish government now accepts that fossil fuels must be phased out to fight climate change, potentially leaving a big hole in Scotland's finances, already battered by the pandemic.

Sturgeon told party members that her government would "be candid about the challenges the transition to independence will present, and set out clearly how we can and will overcome them."

"And then, friends, we will ask the people to decide," she said.

Scotland Independence Vote
Scotland's leader argues that the country was forced to leave the EU against its will, but another independence referendum in 2023 would depend on a binding agreement with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government. Johnson speaks during a press conference after cases of the new COVID-19 variant were confirmed in the United Kingdom on November 27, 2021 in London, England. Jeff Gilbert/Pool/Getty Images