Brexit Means Scots Need to Make ‘Informed Choice,’ Sturgeon Says

Updated on
  • First minister addresses academics at conference in Glasgow
  • Scottish government wants new independence vote by spring 2019

Nicola Sturgeon.

Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she wants voters to make an informed choice on whether to accept Britain’s departure from the European Union as she tries to build the case for another independence referendum.

Scots voted against Brexit last year, and Sturgeon has said they should get the chance to decide their future after the terms of leaving the EU become clear by spring 2019. She won the backing of lawmakers in the Scottish Parliament last month to seek the legal means from the U.K. government to hold another referendum, though Prime Minister Theresa May has rebuffed the demand and won’t even discuss the timing.

“We want to ensure that the next referendum on independence again gives people the information they need to come to a considered judgment,” Sturgeon told delegates at the Political Studies Association’s annual conference in Glasgow on Tuesday evening. “That is why nobody wants the referendum to take place immediately.”

After a tumultuous month of politics, it’s unclear what the next move will be for Sturgeon as the Brexit process gets under way. What’s sure is that the governments in Edinburgh and London have dug in for what could be a protracted battle over if, how and when there should be a second independence vote.

Time Out

A pause suits both sides for now. May has Brexit to negotiate, with European leaders meeting April 29 in Brussels to start coordinating their response. Sturgeon, meanwhile, needs to build more support in the opinion polls, which have barely moved since the last independence vote in September 2014, when Scots chose 55 percent to 45 percent to remain in the U.K.

Read More: a Q&A on Why Scottish Independence Is Back on the Table

The first minister’s narrative is that independence is the only way to make up the “democratic deficit” in Scotland in light of the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU. What’s more, the Brexit vote wasn’t based on a detailed proposal for what the future might hold, she said in her speech.

“It’s an issue of principle at the heart of this for Scotland,” she said in a question-and-answer session later. “If Scotland is to be in or out of the EU, that should surely be a decision for people in Scotland.”

Sturgeon, 46, also said she had tried to persuade former Prime Minister David Cameron to lower the voting age for the Brexit referendum to 16 after the Scottish Parliament did the same for the independence plebiscite.

“He didn’t take my advice and had he done so I think that result would have gone the other way and he probably would still be prime minister right now,” Sturgeon said.

Leap of Faith

The challenge for Sturgeon and her Scottish National Party is to convince enough people to take the leap of faith the next time around, whenever that might be. She also called for the campaign to be civil, after two divisive referendums in less than three years.

In the background, the Scottish economy has been spluttering because of the collapse in oil prices. It shrank 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter from the previous three months and was flat compared with a year earlier, according to a government report last week. Figures due by early July will show whether the country is officially in recession or not.

Scotland’s EU status is also in question, and it would probably have to apply to rejoin the bloc as a new independent state if it votes to quit the U.K.

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