Scotland’s government will publish a draft bill for an independence referendum next week as a last resort if it cannot keep close EU ties when the UK leaves the bloc, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned today (13 October).
The prospect of leaving the EU has upset many Scots, including some of those who voted “no” to an independent Scotland two years ago because they feared independence would mean losing EU membership. But it is now possible that Scottish voters will have a second bite of the cherry.
“I can confirm today that the independence referendum bill will be published for consultation next week” in the Scottish parliament, Sturgeon told delegates at her Scottish National Party’s annual conference.
She said that the path taken by Prime Minister Theresa May since Britain voted to leave the EU in June – which has seen heavy falls in the pound – is one of “economic recklessness”.
“The (Conservatives) are holding (the referendum result) up as cover for a hard Brexit that they have no mandate for – but which they are determined to impose, regardless of the ruinous consequences,” Sturgeon told the conference.
The SNP is by far the most dominant Scottish party at Westminster with 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the UK parliament. Scotland voted 62% to 38% to stay in the EU.
“I suspect that many of those who voted to Leave (the EU) now look at the actions and rhetoric of the (British government) and think ‘that’s not what I voted for’,” she added.
Sturgeon will seek to head a group of opposition lawmakers including Labour and Liberal Democrat parliamentarians, as well as some members of May’s own Conservative Party.
May has vowed to restore sovereignty and increase controls over migration, leading to a growing perception that Britain is on course for a “hard” Brexit where restricting immigration takes priority over retaining access to Europe’s single market.
Britain’s government has a working majority of just 16 seats in the 650-seat Westminster parliament.
However, uniting opposition to a hard Brexit will be a tall order. The main opposition Labour Party has been consumed by infighting over its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who is supported by its membership base but not by senior party members.
Some of Sturgeon’s own SNP party supported leaving the EU, according to opinion polls carried out earlier this year.
The United Kingdom as a whole voted by 52% to 48% to leave the EU in a nation-wide referendum on 23 June.
But Scotland voted strongly for Britain to remain – by 62% to 38%.
After the result became clear, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that a new independence vote within two years was now “highly likely” and that Scotland was seeking “immediate discussions” with European leaders.
Scotland had rejected independence in a 2014 referendum, but Sturgeon said the landscape had changed since Britain's seismic vote to leave the European Union.
Surveys taken after the June Brexit referendum vote suggested Scots are now more inclined to reconsider breaking away from the rest of the UK.