EDINBURGH, Scotland – The Scottish government published on Wednesday a bill setting out rules for a second referendum on its independence from the United Kingdom, something the government in Westminster has so far said it would oppose.
Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said after publishing the document that it was essential for Scotland to keep its options open so that Scottish voters have an opportunity to chose “a better future.” The debate on Scotland’s independence from the UK reemerged following the Brexit vote.
“An independence referendum within this parliamentary term will give Scotland the opportunity to choose to be an independent European nation, rather than have a Brexit future imposed on us,” the pro-independence leader of the Scottish National Party, said.
The Referendums Bill did not name a date for such a plebiscite, although Sturgeon said she would like it to take place before the end of 2021, the end of the current parliamentary term in Holyrood, Scotland’s devolved chamber.
“We will seek agreement to a transfer of power at an appropriate point to enable an independence referendum that is beyond challenge to be held later in this parliament,” she continued. “It is essential the UK government recognizes that it would be a democratic outrage if it seeks to block such a referendum.”
In order for any referendum to go ahead, the UK government would have to activate a so-called Section 30 order.
In 2014, then prime minister David Cameron granted the devolved Scottish government, then led by Alex Salmond, Sturgeon’s predecessor and mentor, the powers to hold a referendum. Scots chose to remain by a margin of 55 percent to 44 percent.
Cameron later went on to call the Brexit referendum in June 2016, which the Leave campaign narrowly won.
Sturgeon hopes to pass the bill by the end of 2019.
Although the SNP governs in a minority in Holyrood, the party relies on the votes of the Scottish Green Party, which also backs independence, to pass legislation through the assembly.
Michael Russell, Scottish cabinet secretary for government business and constitutional relations, said the process could be accelerated if there was a change in circumstances.
The Scottish Conservative Party, the second-force in the national chamber and firm opponent of independence accused the SNP of obsessing over a question that had already been answered by the Scottish people instead of focusing on current issues in the country.
The SNP took 37 percent of votes in Scotland in recent European elections, its best ever result, and will post three of the six Scottish MEPs in the European Parliament.
Sturgeon said the election result was a clear anti-Brexit message. The SNP has governed in Scotland for 12 years.
Some 52 percent of UK voters opted to leave the EU back in 2016 but only 38 percent did so in Scotland.
May is due to step down on June 7 but it is likely her successor will also be opposed to a second referendum in Scotland.
“If I become PM, I won’t allow a second Scottish independence referendum. People state views clearly in 2014, so there should be no second vote,” Sajid Javid the current Home Secretary and a contender for PM said. “Nicola Sturgeon should spend more time improving public services in Scotland, and less time grandstanding.”
One of the principal anti-independence campaign messages ahead of the 2014 referendum was that abandoning the UK meant abandoning the EU, too.