Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would travel to Brussels on Wednesday (29 June) for talks to defend Scotland’s place in the European Union after a vote by Britain as a whole to leave the bloc.
Scotland voted decisively to stay in the EU in last week’s referendum. Sturgeon said she was “utterly determined” to protect Scotland as she obtained a formal mandate for direct talks with the European Union institutions at an emergency session of the Scottish parliament.
During her visit she would set out Scotland’s position to the speaker of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, and to representatives of the major groups of European lawmakers, she said.
However, Sturgeon will not be meeting European Council President Donald Tusk, his spokesman said, because he did not think it was an appropriate time.
“Through all of this I am determined, utterly determined, to preserve Scotland’s relationship and place within the EU,” said Sturgeon, head of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP).
Britain as a whole voted by 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU but Scotland voted strongly for Britain to remain — by 62 percent to 38 percent.
Scotland is to draw up legislation for a new independence referendum to ensure it could be held during any negotiations for Britain to leave the EU, which would last a maximum of two years unless all EU member states agreed to extend them.
Outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron has ruled Sturgeon’s initiative out, saying Scots had already voted against independence in 2014, and the referendum would require the authority of the British parliament to go ahead.
“The last thing Scotland needs now is another divisive referendum,” his spokeswoman said earlier.
But Sturgeon stressed the circumstances had changed since 2014 and Scotland was in “uncharted territory” and that a new referendum was now “highly likely”.
On Tuesday, during an extraordinary plenary session of the European Parliament, Scottish MEP Alyn called on European Union colleagues to respect that the Scottish vote had diverged from the British one.
“Scotland did not let you down. Please, I beg you, ‘chers collegues,’ do not let Scotland down now,” said Alyn Smith, winning a standing ovation from his counterparts. Scottish SNP member of the European Parliament Alyn Smith called on it to stand by Scotland in an impassioned speech earlier on Tuesday in which he described himself as “proudly European”.
“Scotland did not let you down… Chers collegues, do not let Scotland down now,” Smith implored in a mix of French and English, bringing fellow MEPs to their feet in a standing ovation.
The leaders of Gibraltar and Scotland discussed remaining within the European Union on Tuesday. Gibraltar, a rocky outcrop on Spain’s southern tip that was ceded to Britain 300 years ago, voted overwhelmingly to remain within the EU.
Experts have said one way in which Scotland could remain in the EU would be if it became independent and then applied to be a “successor state”, effectively inheriting Britain’s EU membership.
Sturgeon argues that the Brexit vote has changed the context so profoundly that Scots should be able to vote again on the issue, should independence turn out to be the best way for Scotland to remain an EU member.
Polls show some indication that support for independence has risen since the Brexit vote, though there are also doubts on how long such support may be sustained.
Speaking in London, Sturgeon’s predecessor Alex Salmond, now a leading SNP lawmaker in the British parliament, said he expected a new independence referendum “in the two and a half years coming” if it was the only way of staying in the EU.
“We’ve already seen from European politicians in many, many countries, significant European politicians, a great expression of sympathy and solidarity with Scotland’s position,” Salmond told AFP.
He praised Sturgeon’s leadership amid the current political turmoil in Britain’s two main parties — the Conservatives and Labour.
Sturgeon “has been the only politician on these islands with a steady, clear view of the road ahead and the politicians at Westminster have been running around like headless chickens,” he said.
The Scottish arm of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, which is the main opposition to the SNP in the Scottish parliament, attacked Sturgeon for linking the EU issue to the possibility of a second independence referendum.
“You do not dampen the shockwaves caused by one referendum by lighting the fuse for another,” Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson told the parliament in Edinburgh.
“(The Brexit vote) does not break the continuing logic of our sharing power with the UK, not splitting from it.”