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11th Apr 2021

Sturgeon in Brussels: Scotland seeks 'legal' referendum vote

  • Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said no British prime minister can stand in the way of the will of the Scottish people. And an independent Scotland would seek to re-join the EU, she added (Photo: Scottish government/Flickr)

Scotland is seeking independence in a "legal and legitimate" referendum, which can be recognised domestically and internationally, Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon told a conference on Monday (10 February) in Brussels.

Sturgeon said her government will seek an agreement with the UK government on the process for a referendum, and make the case for independence so strong that "no prime minister, not even Boris Johnson" can refuse it.

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The Scottish government has already taken steps, she said, by testing the potential question to be put to voters with the electoral commission, calling a new constitutional convention to broaden the support, and publishing policy papers on how to set up an independent Scotland.

"We are taking, in Scotland, the steps required to ensure that a referendum can be held that is legal and legitimate so the result can be accepted and agreed both at home and internationally," she said on her first foreign trip since the UK left the EU at the end of January.

"We should agree on a process with the UK government on a referendum in line with a clear mandate from the people," she said.

Sturgeon pointed out that at UK general election in December, her Scottish National Party won 80 percent of the seats in Scotland on an anti-Brexit and pro-independence platform.

She also argued that Scots, who overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum, should not be taken out of the bloc against their will, and that polls suggest pro-independence sentiment is on the rise.

Scotland had held an independence referendum in 2014, when people voted 55 percent to 45 percent to remain part of the UK, and British prime minister Boris Johnson has so far rejected allowing a new vote.

But Sturgeon argues that Brexit changes the context.

"The UK is not an imposed state, is a voluntary union of nations," she added.

Sturgeon did not rule out the possibility of Scotland holding a referendum without British approval, an issue that has to be tested by the courts, but she said her preferred way is building a momentum for independence.

"I am a democrat, in order to legitimately become independent, we have to prove it is the will of the people," she responded when asked if Scotland should unilaterally declare independence.

The Spanish region of Catalonia unilaterally declared independence in October 2017 following a referendum deemed illegal by courts, prompting Spain's biggest political crisis in decades. This is a route Sturgeon wants to avoid.

And an independent Scotland would seek to re-join the EU, the first minister added.

Sturgeon earlier said she wanted to see a referendum this year, but that is unlikely to happen. Sturgeon could be looking at the Scottish parliament elections in 2021, targeting a big win on the back of a referendum campaign.

The latest opinion polls showed that support for independence has risen to 51 percent.

'Divergence too heavy a cost'

But until then, Scotland will try to convince London of the importance on establishing a close trading relationship in the talks on the future relations, despite Sturgeon being "not very optimistic" about success.

She said her government, where it can, will try to stay close to EU regulations, which would make it easier to re-join once independent.

"The right to diverge will come at a very heavy cost, a cost that is too heavy," Sturgeon said.

The EU has said that the UK will need to align itself with EU rules and standards if its goods want to have easy access to the bloc's single market.

The EU wants to prevent the UK undercutting EU businesses. The UK has said however, that it wants to diverge.

"There is danger that the UK will significantly reduce our access to the single market, because it wants lower standards on health, environment and workers' rights," Sturgeon said.

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