The Scottish government is increasingly convinced it can win a new independence referendum and is thinking seriously about calling one next year as Britain exits the European Union, sources close to the Scottish government said on Thursday (23 February).
Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay inside the EU in last June’s referendum, but Britain as a whole voted to leave and British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she plans to trigger the start of the Brexit process by the end of March.
“I believe the Scottish government is thinking very, very seriously about going for an independence referendum next year,” Charles Grant, an adviser to the Scottish government’s Standing Council on Europe, said on Thursday.
“They feel they have enough emotion and momentum to overcome the economic downsides … the harder the Brexit, the more likely they are to break away.”
Scots rejected independence by a 10-point margin in a 2014 referendum.
But the Brexit vote has changed the landscape, in the view of Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. She published a draft bill for a second independence referendum last October.
Scottish ministers say a proposal made in December for a separate Scottish deal within Brexit has not been seriously considered. The UK government denies that is the case.
“(A new independence vote) is inevitable,” said a Scottish lawmaker. “If you don’t call one now, it’s off the cards for a generation,” because economic damage from Brexit would make voters nervous of change.
“Now is the time.”
One Scottish lawmaker told Reuters he had had “substantive” discussions leading him to conclude that a referendum next year was almost inevitable.
This time neither the pro-independence nor pro-union side could offer a clear way forward – improving the chances of the pro-independence camp compared with in 2014.
“Both sides will be proposing uncertainty. We will be proposing that the people who live and work here will be in the driving seat and that is a much more powerful message when the other side is also proposing uncertain change and you have no control.”
On Wednesday (22 February), Britain’s Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell told the Scottish parliament the country would have to leave the EU whether or not it became independent, raising the hackles of nationalists.
Sturgeon’s pro-EU Scottish National Party says May’s drive for a “hard Brexit” against the will of most Scots had put independence back on the agenda.
The British government has insisted there is no need for a second independence referendum.