- Vote would have to take place within two years, debate hears
- SNP, Greens form pro-independence majority in Scots Parliament
A U.K. vote to leave the European Union could trigger a second Scottish independence referendum within two years, former Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond said.
Salmond quit the leadership of his party after failing to persuade Scotland’s voters to choose independence from the U.K. in a 2014 referendum, which at the time he presented as a once-in-a-lifetime vote. Now he and his successor, Nicola Sturgeon, say a U.K. vote to leave the EU in the June 23 referendum would be a change in circumstances that justifies a second Scottish independence vote.
“If you had the situation where Scotland in four weeks’ time votes ‘Remain,’ and the rest of the U.K. or England drags Scotland out by voting to leave, then that would justify in my opinion another referendum,” Salmond said late Thursday in a BBC Television debate on the EU referendum. “It would have to be within the two-year period of the U.K. negotiating a withdrawal” from the 28-nation bloc. The former first minister said he believes Scots would decide to leave the U.K. in such a vote.
Salmond’s comments underscore the potential for further political uncertainty across Europe if Britain takes the unprecedented step of voting to leave the EU. A so-called Brexit would embolden anti-EU groups in other members of the bloc, while renewed Scottish independence moves might spark a resurgence of similar efforts in regions such as Catalonia in Spain.
Salmond was advocating a vote to remain in the EU in the debate, designed to reach out to younger voters. His fellow Scot, former British Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who advocates a so-called Brexit but favors Scotland remaining in the U.K., said the nationalists shouldn’t use the EU vote to “sidetrack” Scotland into another vote.
“Every vote’s the same, whether it’s in Stornoway” in Scotland’s Western Isles “or St. Ives” in southwest England, Fox said. “It’s a decision for all the people of the United Kingdom and we should take it on the merits of the European Union debate and not be sidetracked into yet another fear campaign about a Scottish referendum.”
The SNP won a new term running the semi-autonomous Scottish government in elections last month, though they fell just short of a majority in the Scottish Parliament. With the pro-independence Greens, Sturgeon has enough votes in the Parliament to call a second referendum.
The party said in its election manifesto that the Scottish legislature should have the right to call a new independence vote “if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people -- or if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.”