Brexit will lead to clamour for Scottish independence, says Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon. Brussels, June 2015. [James Crisp]

If Scotland leaves the European Union because of an English vote in the United Kingdom’s referendum on EU membership, the backlash could result in another Scottish UK independence vote, Nicola Sturgeon said today (2 June).

The SNP leader called for the vote to require a “double majority” where England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would individually have to back “Brexit” for it to go ahead.

Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP) has enjoyed a surge in popularity since it led a failed bid for independence last year, winning all but three of Scotland’s 59 parliamentary seats in May’s general election.

“If Scotland were to be taken out of the EU despite having voted to remain, it would provoke a strong backlash,” the First Minister of Scotland warned during a speech in Brussels.

“Bluntly I believe the groundswell of anger […] could produce a clamour for another referendum that could well be unstoppable.”

That could only be avoided by agreeing to double majority. Doing so would make claims made during the Scottish independence campaign that the UK was a “family of nations” much more credible, she added.

>>Read: Cameron begs Scots not to leave ‘UK family’

Ian Duncan is a Scottish Conservative member of the European Parliament. He said that double majority would create a democratic deficit, with the votes of some citizens in the UK being worth more than others.

“Last September, the people of Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom, knowing full well an EU referendum was likely,” he said.

More say for Scotland in EU affairs

Sturgeon said that her government would push for a much stronger influence and say over UK decision-making on EU affairs, as part of the “devolution max” talks between Edinburgh and London promised after Scotland’s independence referendum.

>>Read: Scotland votes to remain in the UK, ‘devo max’ underway

“We want a much stronger and more formalised position,” she said. EU policy areas that particularly affected Scotland, such as fishing, would be targeted.

The SNP also wanted to make it possible for a Scottish government minister to lead UK talks with EU diplomats, if the UK minister was not available.

In the past, civil servants had led discussions even when a Scottish minister was present, Sturgeon told EURACTIV.

“The Scottish Government has become obsessed by who is in the room at the Council, and has forgotten about the European Parliament,” Scottish Conservative MEP Ian Duncan told EURACTIV.


Sturgeon criticised the decision to block EU residents in Britain from voting in the Brexit referendum as “unfair, undemocratic and unjustifiable”.

The Scottish independence referendum was open to EU and Commonwealth citizens resident in Scotland.

She backed EU reforms, including the European Commission’s “better regulation” push to cut red tape, but warned that they needed to be negotiated sensibly.

Cameron is pushing for the reforms ahead of the Brexit referendum. He had promised the vote by 2017 if he won last May’s national elections.

>>Read: Brexit referendum looms after Tory election victory

“Although it has been 29 months since the Prime Minister announced his intention to negotiate reforms, we still have very little ideas of the specific changes he wants to see,” Sturgeon said.

Because of that, it was impossible to know to what extent the SNP and the Conservatives agreed, she added.

Treaty change, which Cameron wants, was not needed to deliver those reforms, Sturgeon said, before signalling that she would not support any changes to the EU right of freedom of movement for citizens.

170,000 citizens of other member states live and work in Scotland and made a valuable contribution to society, she said, and many Scottish citizens lived in the EU.

Immigration and freedom of movement were major political flashpoints during the UK’s general election, with Cameron toughening his position in response to the threat posed by the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party to his Conservatives.

“Some UK government rhetoric creates the impression that EU membership is not beneficial at present, (that) it will only become beneficial if there are reforms,” said Sturgeon.

That created a danger that the focus would be on the size on any reforms rather than the bigger picture of the value and importance of the EU.

If the UK government wants to remain in the EU, it should give people something to vote for instead of focusing on the risks of leaving, she said.

“Otherwise it might win the vote but not resolve the issues,” added Sturgeon, “and there are big lessons to be learnt from the Scottish referendum there.”

“The SNP has made a dramatic U-turn today after cheerleading for the EU during the independence referendum,” said MEP Duncan.

“I am delighted they now accept that Europe needs reform and I look forward to [former SNP leader and now MP] Alex Salmond campaigning with us for a reformed EU.”

Human rights and the migrant crisis

Sturgeon attacked David Cameron’s push to take the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights and replace it with a “British Bill of Rights”.

“It defies belief that any politician would try to distance the UK from the Convention,” Sturgeon said before warning SNP MPs in Westminster would robustly oppose any attempts to weaken it.

“Scotland’s commitment to the EU is matched to its commitment to the Convention,” she added.

Sturgeon also declared, to applause at the European Policy Centre event, that Scotland recognised its duty to refugees.

Scotland was ready to resettle some refugees, as part of the relocation program being championed by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in the wake of hundreds of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean.

>>Read: Opposition mounting to UK Human Rights Act suspension

Sturgeon told a mix of EU officials, press and politicians that she did not expect Scotland to adopt the euro in her lifetime.

During the Scottish independence campaign, Union supporters warned that Scotland would not be able to keep the pound in the event of a yes vote.

>>Read: UK says independent Scotland would lose the pound

They also insited that if Scotland left the UK, it would have to accede to the EU all over again.

>>Read: MEPs could block Scotland’s EU membership if it pushes for euro opt-out

Sturgeon insisted that while Euroscepticism did exist in Scotland, it was not a priority for people.

“Euroscepticism exists in Scotland […] but in my view not to the same extent or virulence we sometimes see in the UK,” she said.

Sturgeon’s warning that Brexit could trigger another Scottish independence vote echoes that made before by leading Conservative MEPs.

>>Read: Brexit could cost UK its UN Security Council seat, warns leading Tory

David Cameron's surprise victory in the United Kingdom’s general election has put Britain on course to hold a referendum on its membership of the European Union, and raises questions over Scotland’s future in the UK.

The Conservatives promised an in/out referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017 if they win the election, placing Europe's future at the centre of the debate.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he would campaign for the UK to stay, but only if the EU was able to reform, saying “Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union.”

>> Read our LinksDossier: Voting on Brexit: The EU issues shaping the UK election

The pro-EU Scottish National Party (SNP) took all but three Westminster seats in Scotland in a stunning victory at the same election. The SNP’s crushing victory came just eight months after Scots voted yes to staying in the UK.

The yes victory led to Alex Salmond stepping down as SNP leader and First Minister of Scotland, with Nicola Sturgeon taking over both posts.

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