EDINBURGH, Scotland – The possibility of Scotland holding another independence referendum has divided the Scottish National Party, which governs in the devolved parliament, between those urging their party leader to act fast and those advocating a little prudence.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, aired the possibility of secessionist poll immediately after UK voters opted to leave the European Union in the June 2016 Brexit referendum arguing that Scotland, where 62 percent of people opted to remain in the bloc, would be pulled out against its will.
In 2014, voters in Scotland rejected independence 55-44 in what was meant to be a binding result to put the topic to rest. At the time, Westminster warned that a vote for independence could see Scotland lose its access to the EU.
The small print agreed with the UK government ahead of that vote included a clause that said the topic would not be revisited unless there was a serious change in Scotland’s circumstances, such as being pulled out of the EU against its will.
Sturgeon, who has backed a second Brexit referendum in the UK, has also hinted that plans for a new Scottish independence vote would be revealed in the “not too distant future.”
Anthony Salamone, an analyst at the Scottish Centre on European Relations, said the uncertainty about when to call a referendum reflected the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and how to respond to it.
He said Sturgeon and the majority of her team are very cautious with respect to the opportune moment: other political figures and party members were, however, much more anxious and wanted to hold a referendum as soon as possible.
One of the SNP personalities who want to call a referendum immediately is Alex Salmond, the former party leader who oversaw the 2014 vote.
He was currently embroiled in a judicial process for accusations of sexual assault, including two for attempted rape – all of which he denies.
For Coree Brown Swan, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh, this could damage the independence movement, given his status as a love him or hate him figure in Scottish politics.
In his 40 years in politics, Salmond, a charismatic leader, oversaw the evolution of the SNP from a minority party to a regional powerhouse that has governed the nation and managed to enact its flagship policy of staging a vote on independence from the rest of the UK.
For Alyn Smith, an SNP lawmaker at the European Parliament, the party should proceed with care.
He said it was important not to let enthusiasm for an early vote eclipse the sensibility of waiting to see exactly what happens with Brexit, which, barring any political delays, is scheduled for March 29.
Anti-Brexit sentiment has become a pillar of the renewed independence movement in Scotland. Not a single electoral constituency in the country of roughly 5 million people voted to leave the EU.
In Westminster, the SNP has become a leading voice for a so-called People’s Vote.
According to Salamone, many SNP members were pinning hope on Brexit, and specifically the way it is being handled by Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government, pushing people towards independence.
Current polling indicates that between 45-48 percent of people would back a break away from the UK.
Coree Swan pointed out that this may not look as gloomy as it may seem to the SNP, given that estimates ahead of the 2014 vote languished as low as 25 percent.
Certain powers are devolved in Scotland, such as tax and welfare. These matters are dealt with in Holyrood, Scotland’s parliament, located in the capital Edinburgh.