Scottish Parliament to Defy U.K. and Back Independence Vote

Updated on
  • Lawmakers in Edinburgh expected to support nationalist plan
  • U.K. and Scottish leaders met in week EU exit to be triggered

Scottish Independence Adds New Brexit Twist for May

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected to win backing for her plan to pursue a second independence referendum in a parliamentary vote that comes a day before the U.K. triggers two years of talks on withdrawing from the European Union.

Lawmakers in Edinburgh will vote around 5 p.m. local tine on Tuesday, with the Greens already saying they will support Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party to ensure a majority in the semi-autonomous Scottish Parliament. Sturgeon is seeking permission to request the legal means from the U.K. authorities to hold the plebiscite by spring 2019, saying circumstances have changed now Britain is pulling out of the EU.

Nicola Sturgeon on March 28.

Photographer: Russell Cheyne - WPA Pool /Getty Images

The vote, which was postponed from last week because of the terrorist attack outside the U.K. Parliament in London, sets up what could be a lengthy and acrimonious domestic showdown in the midst of the Brexit negotiations. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May met Sturgeon on a visit to Scotland on Monday and has repeatedly rebuffed the plan for another Scottish referendum.

“When that change is imposed on us, we should have the right to choose,” Sturgeon told Scottish lawmakers at the start of Tuesday’s debate. “None of us should be in any doubt what’s at stake. The people of Scotland must also have their say.”

Brexit Calendar

The dispute over who has the right to decide Scotland’s future and when is thus set to rumble on, and that might suit both parties for now.

Sturgeon is trying to build support in the polls for independence after being defeated in 2014, a year when the Scottish economy was performing better and the price of North Sea oil was almost twice what it is today.

The Conservative Party, which governs the U.K. though is the largest opposition group in the Scottish Parliament, says no referendum should take place, not least because there’s no public or political consent for one. Ruth Davidson, the party’s leader in Scotland, told lawmakers Sturgeon is trying to “spin some rationale” for her referendum timetable.

May said this month that “now is not the time” for a vote and wants to complete the pullout from the EU first. She argued that the SNP government’s plan to hold a referendum as early as the fall of next year would not give voters enough time to see the results of her Brexit negotiations.

Timing Talks

Sturgeon said last week that she’s open to discussions on the timing of the vote if the U.K. presents “a clear alternative and the rationale for it,” though she insisted that she has a mandate to call a referendum because Brexit means the status quo is no longer an option.

Read More: a QuickTake on Scotland’s Bid for Independence

Should the Edinburgh legislature vote as expected, the Scottish government will then issue a so-called Section 30 request to the U.K. for the temporary transfer of power to hold another plebiscite, using the previous as precedent.

Scots voted 55 percent to 45 percent to stay in the U.K. the last time and then 62 percent to 38 percent to remain in the EU in June last year. Bookmaker William Hill Plc puts the chances of another vote by the end of 2020 at 65 percent and that Scots will choose independence when the time comes.