Why Scotland's Independence Is Back on the Table: QuickTake Q&A

Sturgeon Announces Steps for Scots Independence Vote

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon hopes to call another vote on independence, once more is known about the likely shape of Britain’s separation from the European Union. Her reasoning: Scots didn’t vote for Brexit and are now being sidelined, exposing a “democratic deficit” that only breaking away from the U.K. can ultimately fix.

1. When was the last vote on Scottish independence?

In September 2014, when Scots voted 55 percent to 45 percent against becoming an independent country. At the time, Sturgeon described the referendum as a “once in a generation” event. But she now argues that the U.K.’s June 2016 vote to leave the European Union fundamentally changed what it means to be part of the U.K.

2. Would Scotland vote to leave if given another chance?

The 55-45 split in public opinion remained mostly intact, until recently. A poll in February showed the gap had narrowed to two percentage points. A poll this month found an even 50-50 split -- intriguing, for sure, but not yet enough to constitute "a consistent trend," said Anthony Wells, a pollster at YouGov Plc.

3. Does Sturgeon have the power to call another vote?

Yes, if you ask Scottish nationalists. No, if you ask the U.K. government. The 2014 vote was called by the Scottish Parliament under one-off powers granted it by the U.K. Parliament. Following that precedent, Prime Minister Theresa May would have to agree to another referendum, and she’s been clear she opposes one. Whether she could sustain that position depends on how political pressure shifts in Scotland and how Sturgeon plays her hand. 

4. When would a vote happen, if at all?

That depends on when Sturgeon decides to push for it, and how May responds. Sturgeon might be a tad ambitious with her hope to hold a vote in late 2018. Just in case, she’s ordered her ministers to prepare draft legislation. At the very least, May would want to put off the vote until Brexit is a done deal. That would likely be a few months into 2019, or later.

5. How does Brexit factor into Scottish independence?

Part of the independence argument is that the Scots and the English are fundamentally different people who want different things; another is the U.K. forces Scots to do things against their will. Brexit supports both these points. Scotland voted to stay in the EU but has to leave because the English voted otherwise. Scotland has voted for more socialist-leaning parties in recent decades, and now finds itself under a Conservative, English government.

6. Do the exact terms of Brexit matter?

May’s determination to go for a “hard Brexit” -- taking Britain out of the EU’s single market -- makes a Scottish independence bid more complicated. Under the independence scenario envisioned by nationalists in the 2014 referendum, Scotland would have kept the pound, gotten a seat on the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee and had no border with the rest of the U.K. (since both would have been EU members). Brexit changes all that. If Scotland were to separate from a post-Brexit U.K., there would be a need for a proper border, and it’s hard to imagine a government that insists on a "hard Brexit" offering Scots a say in economic policy.

7. So, will Sturgeon go for it?

Scottish independence is the cause that drew her into politics. She must dream of being the person to lead her country out of the union, and if she thinks she has a reasonable chance of winning, she’d surely want to try. If, on the other hand, she called a vote and lost, she probably would settle the question for a generation.

The Reference Shelf

  • A QuickTake explainer on Scotland’s independence.
  • What comes next as May prepares to trigger Brexit.
  • A QuickTake Q&A on what makes a "hard Brexit" harder than a soft one.
  • May isn’t thrilled that Sturgeon is pushing independence again.
  • A profile of Sturgeon.
  • Scottish independence is one of four Brexit fronts where May is battling, writes Bloomberg View columnist Mark Gilbert.
  • A visit to the curious Anglo-Scottish border.
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