Edinburgh, United Kingdom | AFP |
Scotland’s nationalist leader Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday pressed on with calls for a new independence referendum, saying it might be the only way to protect the country’s interests as Brexit approaches.
“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,” said Sturgeon, the first minister of the semi-autonomous Scottish government.
Speaking in Edinburgh, she also accused anti-EU campaigners of plotting a “gross betrayal” of promises made to Scotland ahead of last year’s Brexit vote.
Scotland voted by 55 percent to stay part of the United Kingdom in 2014, and in the 2016 referendum on European Union membership it voted by 62 percent to remain, sparking a fresh constitutional crisis.
Overall Britain voted by 52 percent in favour of leaving the EU, with England and Wales supporting Brexit while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay in the bloc.
Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), proposed a “compromise” which would keep Scotland in the European single market, even as the rest of the UK leaves.
But a new paper by the Scottish Conservatives, allied with Britain’s ruling Conversative Party, has warned that a separate Scottish deal on EU membership would “result in the fracturing of the UK domestic market… damage the economy and reduce growth in Scotland”.
The British government says it is still considering Sturgeon’s compromise offer, but the Conservatives’ paper has further eroded the possibility of deal.
Sturgeon said if a deal cannot be struck, a second referendum “may offer the only way in which our voice can be heard, our interests protected, and our values upheld”.
The Scottish Parliament cannot hold a legally binding referendum without permission from the British government.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who is part of a high-level group to defend the union which includes British government ministers, has confirmed they have a strategy in place if Sturgeon were to propose another referendum.
Davidson told Holyrood magazine: “I don’t think another independence referendum is inevitable.”
But she added: “I certainly don’t think we should talk about what moves we would make in response to moves that the SNP haven’t made yet… thus showing them our hand.”
Prime Minister Theresa May, who is speaking at the Scottish Conservative conference on Friday, has promised to initiate Brexit talks with Brussels by the end of March.
Sturgeon is expected to unveil additional details about her preparations for a new referendum at the SNP conference on March 17.