As the Brexit Bill finally went through last week, allowing the Conservative government to trigger Article 50, the conversation turned to another referendum – a (second) Scottish one.
As soon as the Brexit Bill completed its protracted course through Westminster, Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) Nicola Sturgeon declared that the people of Scotland must have another opportunity to vote for Scottish independence – not least as a way to remain in the EU.
Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU in the June 2016 referendum, with 62 per cent of the electorate voting Remain. In the independence referendum of 2014 Scottish voters opted to remain within the United Kingdom: the vote against independence was 55 per cent, compared to 45 per cent who voted to leave the UK; the turnout was 85 per cent.
Aside from the small matter of winning the vote, Sturgeon’s plans also face a procedural problem: a second Scottish referendum would have to be sanctioned by the Westminster parliament, and no such sanction is likely while the Tories continue to hold a working majority.
There has already been a war of words between Sturgeon and UK Prime Minister Theresa May.
Since the majority of the Scottish electorate has already voted to stay in the EU, Sturgeon maintains that Scotland must have another independence vote before Britain leaves. But May’s response is that there cannot be another Scottish referendum until 2021 at the earliest. Britain must stand united in exit negotiations with the EU, she maintains.
May’s position sounds like an affront to the spirit of democracy, which she was very happy to refer to whenever the judges or the Lords stood in the way of ‘the people’s mandate’ for Brexit.
Blocking the will of almost a whole country will only strain relations between Scotland and the rest of the UK. We don’t want to regress back to a Conservative government ignoring the Scottish people, especially after much good work has been done during the decades of devolution. It’s understandable that a UK government would want to delay any independence referendum taking place during Brexit negotiations, but time will only strengthen the call for independence in Scotland.
It is evident that Sturgeon and the SNP will be keen to get a second referendum as soon as possible. Even if it means having an unofficial referendum first, which has not be ruled out by Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney.