Brexit Prompts Scottish Independence Push Amid U.K. ‘Intransigence’By
Scotland opposes the U.K.’s withdrawal from EU single market
Latest polls show referendum result would be on knife edge
Scotland is headed for another vote on independence, opening a new front in the Brexit battle and raising the prospect of the U.K. breaking up after leaving the European Union.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Monday she plans to start the legal process for a referendum to be held by the spring of 2019. The announcement comes as the U.K. prepares to trigger Brexit negotiations, which Scotland’s semi-autonomous government opposes after the nation voted to stay in the EU.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said it means Scotland faces “more uncertainty and division.”
The Scottish unrest risks more constitutional upheaval just as May readies to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty as soon as this week, further complicating her government’s preparations for Brexit. Scotland has been pushing to retain access to the EU’s single market regardless of whether the rest of the U.K. abandons it.
Sturgeon and her Scottish National Party have said Scots are being ignored and the only way to fix the “democratic deficit” is to gain full independence.
The Scottish government repeatedly sought compromise with the U.K., only to be “met with a brick wall of intransigence,” Sturgeon told reporters in Edinburgh. “I will now take the steps necessary so Scotland will have the choice at the end of this process.”
Based on her timetable, which needs approval from Scottish lawmakers and the U.K., the vote could come as early as the fall of 2018, Sturgeon said.
Sturgeon said she will seek the authority of the Scottish Parliament to agree with the U.K. government on a so-called Section 30 Order granting “the ability of Scotland to legislate for an independence referendum.” The Green Party, which she needs for a majority in the legislature, welcomed the request, meaning she’s likely to get consent.
“Then the ball will be in the prime minister’s court,” said Nicola McEwen, a politics professor at Edinburgh University. “How accommodative or obstructive she appears to be may have a significant impact on political debate and public opinion.”
The pound was 0.6 percent higher at $1.2224 as of 4 p.m. London time. It initially pared gains as Sturgeon announced her plans, before rallying when she laid out her proposed timetable for the referendum because traders see it as far off.
May said the Scottish administration should get on with running Scotland instead of calling a new independence referendum. “The evidence clearly shows that a majority of people in Scotland do not want a second independence referendum,” the U.K. government said in a statement. May told the BBC the SNP had shown “tunnel vision” that was “deeply regrettable.”
This week is crucial, with May due to address the U.K. Parliament on Brexit on Tuesday and Sturgeon scheduled to address her party faithful at the SNP conference in Aberdeen this coming weekend. The Scottish government says it has the mandate to call another vote, though, like last time, it would need the approval of the U.K.
Research group Eurasia said it’s likely May will seek to delay, rather than block, any independence referendum until after Brexit is completed.
It wouldn’t be acceptable for the U.K. to “puncture Scotland’s lifeboat” by preventing another referendum, Sturgeon said. Faced with the prospect of a so-called hard Brexit, “I’m doing what I think is right for the country and I’m planning to win.”
The SNP, which runs the administration in Edinburgh, has been building momentum for another independence push since Scotland voted to remain in the EU in last June’s referendum. With the U.K. government threatening a “hard Brexit cliff edge,” Sturgeon said there are “massive implications for Scotland, for our economy, jobs, opportunities, public spending and living standards.”
Recent polls have suggested a movement in favor of independence, though not the clear majority the SNP originally were awaiting before seeking a new vote.
A survey published last week showed Scots were evenly split between going it alone and sticking with the status quo, while one in the Herald newspaper on Monday put support for remaining in the U.K. at 52 percent versus 48 percent for independence. In the first independence referendum, in September 2014, Scots voted 55 percent to 45 percent in favor of the union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Scotland’s finances have deteriorated since then because of a collapse in revenue from North Sea oil. Questions also remain over what currency the new state would use and its EU status, though Sturgeon said some European countries were sympathetic to Scotland’s quest to detach itself from Brexit.
The EU has said Scotland can’t retain the U.K.’s membership and would have to apply as a new state. That involves having to convince the Spanish that its new independence wouldn’t create a road map for Catalonia to secede. Another, quicker option would be to seek access to the single market and the free travel area rather than full EU member status.
“The Commission doesn’t comment on issues that pertain to the internal legal and constitutional order of our member states,” European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels on Monday, when asked whether a potential Scottish referendum would have any impact on Brexit talks.
— With assistance by David Goodman, Tim Ross, and Nikos Chrysoloras