Scotland’s First Minister has confirmed plans are in place to seek a second referendum on independence from the UK.
Nicola Sturgeon says she will seek Westminster’s approval for the vote next week.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) leader has called for Scotland to be allowed to strike its own deal with the European Union for a post-Brexit future, but says her efforts have hit a “brick wall” in London.
Her call has been condemned by other political parties and by the UK prime minister.
Scottish Nationalists argue that circumstances have changed since September 2014, when Scotland rejected independence in a referendum.
Scotland voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the European Union during the June 2016 Brexit referendum.
“If Scotland is to have a real choice – when the terms of Brexit are known but before it is too late to choose our own course – then that choice must be offered between the autumn of next year, 2018, and the spring of 2019,” Nicola Sturgeon said on Monday in a speech in Edinburgh.
The SNP leader said that by the time of the vote, the terms of Brexit should have become clearer during the UK’s negotiations with the EU.
“As a result of the Brexit vote we face a future, not just outside the EU, but also outside the world’s biggest single market,” she said.
Sturgeon’s demand comes as British Prime Minister Theresa May prepares to launch the Brexit process imminently.
Her move would involve giving the Scottish parliament at Holyrood the legal powers to hold a referendum under section 30 of the Scotland Act.
The UK parliament in Westminster – where May commands a majority – would make the call on whether Scotland can hold a second vote.
“I will now take the steps necessary to make sure that Scotland will have a choice at the end of this process. A choice of whether to follow the UK to a hard Brexit, or to become an independent country,” Sturgeon said on Monday.
“I can confirm today that next week, I will seek the authority of the Scottish parliament to agree with the UK government the details of a Section 30 order, the procedure that will enable the Scottish parliament to legislate for an independence referendum.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May recently accused the SNP of playing politics with independence “as if it were a game”.
“Another referendum would be divisive and cause huge economic uncertainty at the worst possible time,” a spokesman for May said in a statement on Monday. However, Downing Street did not rule out granting permission for another independence vote.
The prime minister then added her own voice in an interview, condemning the SNP’s “tunnel vision” on independence as “deeply regrettable”.
The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, and the Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, both said their parties would oppose a second referendum.
Nicola Sturgeon has today chosen the path of further division and uncertainty. We will vote against any request for a Section 30 next week.— Ruth Davidson (@RuthDavidsonMSP) March 13, 2017
Scotland is already divided enough. We do not want to be divided again, but that is exactly what another independence referendum would do— Kezia Dugdale (@kezdugdale) March 13, 2017
The first referendum on Scottish independence, in September 2014, saw 55.3 percent of Scots vote in favour of remaining in the United Kingdom, while 44.7 percent voted for secession. Voter turnout stood at 84.59 percent.
However in the UK general election the following May, the SNP all but swept the board in Scotland, returning 56 of the country’s 59 MPs to Westminster.
A second referendum on independence could pave the way for a break-up of the United Kingdom, just months or even weeks before the UK’s departure from the EU becomes a reality.
Recent opinion polls have suggested rising support for Scottish independence since Theresa May announced that Britain would leave not just the EU, but also the single market and possibly the customs union as well. A poll last week saw a 50-50 split.
Sturgeon told journalists in Edinburgh that Scotland’s future would be decided by its people and she trusted them “to make that choice”.