Thursday

9th Feb 2023

Scottish nationalists seize Brexit opportunity

  • Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland isn't leaving the EU. (Photo: Scottish National party)

Scotland voted to remain in the European Union, its first minister said on Friday (24 June) after the UK as a whole voted to leave the EU, reopening the issue of the region's independence.

”I will do all it takes to ensure these aspirations are realised,” Nicola Sturgeon said, adding that it was "democratically unacceptable" that Scotland "faces the prospect of being taken out of the EU against [its] will."

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  • In 2014, many Scots voted against independence as a guarantee to stay in the EU (Photo: Valentina Pop)

All 32 constituencies in Scotland backed the UK's EU membership, by 62 percent, while Leave won in the UK by 51.9 percent.

The 67-percent turnout was the second highest of any referendum held in Scotland, behind the vote on independence in 2014 but higher than the 1997 referendum on devolution.

All Scottish parties represented in the parliament had furthermore campaigned together for Remain.

Sturgeon said that Westminster must involve the Scottish parliament in its EU exit negotiations. She would herself consult European leaders in the next days to discuss steps to secure Scotland’s continued place in the EU.

She raised the ante by mentioning the possibility of a new bid for independence.

”It's a statement of the obvious that a second referendum [on Scottish independence] is on the table,” the first minister added.

"The Scottish government will begin to prepare the required legislation to enable a new independence referendum, if and when Parliament so decides."

Speaking to Euronews TV, the digital economy EU commissioner Gunter Oettinger said that "Scotland will leave the UK possibly".

"Afterwards it would be an independent country and if it fulfils our treaty conditions it would be possible for it to come back to the EU," he said.

Manfred Weber, leader of the centre-right EPP group in the European parliament, meanwhile said that Europe would welcome those parts of the UK that wanted to stay in.

Referendum opportunity

The first referendum on Scottish independence was held less than two years ago, in September 2014.

Back then, one of the campaign's main issues was whether an independent Scottish state would keep its EU membership.

Sturgeon's Scottish National Party claimed that this would be the case while Conservatives claimed that the new state would have to apply from scratch and campaigned with the argument that staying in the UK was Scotland's guarantee to stay in the EU.

The unionist side won the referendum by 55 percent. Prime minister David Cameron announced his plans for the UK’s EU referendum a couple of months later.

"The first minister gave a measured and impressive statement, given the shock and uncertainty following the referendum result,” Michael Rosie, senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and editor of the academic review Scottish Affairs, told EUobserver.

The Leave vote struck Scots by surprise, he said, and there could be little doubt that many who voted No to Scottish independence in 2014 would now feel deep unease at the prospect of a life outside the EU.

”Sturgeon seems to have the political and presentational nous to capitalise on that and to pursue a long term goal of the Scottish National party – an independent Scotland within the EU,” he explained.

”We knew that this was likely in theory, but doubted it would ever need to happen.”

But Rosie added that the first minister doesn’t have the power to call for a referendum.

Unchartered terrain

”The 2014 referendum took place after Edinburgh-London agreed an Order in Council temporarily transferring the powers to hold such a referendum.”

”Will Westminster play ball this time around? If they do, they risk Scotland seceding from the UK. If they refuse, we’re in the uncharted terrain of a major constitutional crisis which can only swell the number of Scots wishing to get out of the UK,” he said.

The territorial integrity of the United Kingdom was challenged twice more on Friday.

Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein called for a referendum on the island's unification, and Spanish foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo called for joint sovereignty over Gibraltar, a British enclave since 1713 on which Spain continues to claim rights.

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