Scotland's Independence Vote Might Be Inevitable, Sturgeon Says

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  • Nationalist leader builds argument over ‘democratic deficit’
  • Sturgeon says she hopes U.K. will change course on Brexit

Panmure Gordon's French on Brexit, Scottish Independence

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said another vote on independence is the only way to protect the country’s interests unless the U.K. softens its plan to leave the European Union and its single market.

Speaking at an event organized by the David Hume Institute in Edinburgh on Tuesday evening, Sturgeon said factions in the U.K. Parliament want to use Brexit as an excuse to undermine her semi-autonomous government. Scotland has been pushing to remain inside Europe’s single market -- even if the rest of Britain leaves -- and Sturgeon has called on U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to change tack and agree to a deal that would allow the nation of 5.4 million to maintain key components of EU membership.

“Proposing a further decision on independence wouldn’t simply be legitimate, it would almost be a necessary way of giving the people of Scotland a say in our own future direction,” Sturgeon, who is also leader of the Scottish National Party, said in her speech. “In the absence of compromise from the U.K. government, it may offer the only way in which our voice can be heard, our interests protected.”

After Scotland voted to remain in the EU last year, Sturgeon has been attempting to win over opponents of independence with the argument that Brexit has exposed a “democratic deficit” whereby the nation is being sidelined by the rest of the U.K. She’s been inching toward another referendum since then, repeatedly saying that another vote is “highly likely,” and the most recent polls show support is tilting slightly in her favor.

Narrowing Gap

Sturgeon maintained her stance that a rerun of the September 2014 vote to leave the U.K. was still an “if” rather than a “when,” but the growing feeling in Scotland is that it may be unavoidable should the U.K. continue on the current Brexit path. One of the key notes in the campaign last time around was that a vote to remain in the U.K. would be the only way for Scots to guarantee their EU status.

Read More: A QuickTake Explainer on Scotland’s Independence Bid

Scotland voted by 55 percent to 45 percent against independence, and that division roughly stayed the same through the end of last year. A BMG poll for the Glasgow-based Herald newspaper carried out late last month found the gap in favor of remaining within the U.K. had narrowed to two percentage points.

Bookmaker William Hill Plc said this week there’s a greater chance of the nationalists succeeding should there be another referendum, with odds of a “Yes” vote at 8 to 11 versus evens for “No.”

Devolution Question

For her part, May remains opposed to a second referendum on Scottish independence, her spokesman said on Monday, after the Times newspaper said the premier’s office was preparing for Sturgeon to call another vote. The pound fell following the Times report.

Sturgeon’s narrative has been that Scotland may have no choice but to go its own way if the Scottish Parliament is to keep its existing powers over such things as health care, education and some taxation. Powers were transferred to the legislature in 1999 as part of a process known as devolution.

“What we have is in effect an attack on the very foundations of the devolved parliament we voted for 20 years ago,” Sturgeon said at the event. “It is being made by a U.K. government which speaks the language of partnership but which in reality pays scant if any heed to Scotland’s democratic voice. The question we face is how to respond to it.”

Sturgeon is misrepresenting the U.K. position, the government in London said in a reaction to the first minister’s speech. “The only threat to devolution is the policy of taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom,” it said in an emailed statement.

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