11th Dec 2023

UK shoots down Scottish leader's call for new referendum

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Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has renewed her call for a second independence referendum, but was immediately shot down by the British government.

"For countries of Scotland's size, independence works. It works for Denmark, for Ireland, for Austria, for Norway, for Finland - and for so many others beside. These are disparate countries with different resources and economies, but independence works for all of them," she said at a video-conference of the Scottish National Party (SNP) on Monday (13 September).

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"I hope the Scottish and UK governments can reach agreement - as we did in 2014 - to allow the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland to be heard and respected," she added.

"Democracy must - and will - prevail," she also said.

"The United Kingdom is after all a voluntary union of nations. Until recently, no one seriously challenged the right of the people in Scotland to choose whether or not they wished to become independent," Sturgeon went on.

"Frankly, it is not up to a Westminster government which has just six MPs in Scotland to decide our future without the consent of the people who live here," she said.

Sturgeon accused British leaders of using Brexit as a weapon to attack independence.

Brexit, which she described as an "obsession of the Tory right", had wreaked economic damage on Scotland, she noted.

And "Westminster will use all that damage that they have inflicted as an argument for yet more Westminster control," she said.

"By making us poorer, they'll say we can't afford to be independent. By cutting our trade with the EU, they'll say we are too dependent on the rest of the UK," she added.

The first minister also diverged from Westminster on coronavirus by opting to keep in place face-mask rules and vaccine-pass restrictions.

And she said Tory asylum policy "fails the basic test of humanity".

She spoke from a position of strength, after a new survey by the Panelbase pollster the same day showed the SNP had 47 percent support, meaning it would win 53 MPs out of 129 in the Scottish Parliament if elections were held today - five more than in the last vote in 2019.

But, at the same time, just 26 percent of Scottish people believed Scotland would gain independence in the next five years - covering the period to the next election, which is due in 2023 or 2024.

Meanwhile, 37 percent believed it would not happen for at least five years, while a further 27 percent felt it would not happen "at any point in the next few decades".

And Sturgeon's comparison of Scotland to other EU nations, such as Denmark or Ireland, did not account for the fact the EU might not let an independent Scotland join the union, not least due to a Spanish veto, based on fears of creating a precedent for Catalan secession.

Bad timing?

For its part, the UK government also took aim at Sturgeon's remarks at a press briefing in London even as she was still finishing her speech.

"Our view ... is that now is simply not the time to be dealing with this. The public are looking to governments and leaders across the UK to focus on dealing with this ongoing pandemic," a government spokesman said.

"Scottish people have been clear they want to see the UK government and devolved governments working together to defeat the pandemic, that's our priority," the spokesman added, noting that Westminster had set aside £1.1bn in health and social care funding for Scotland by 2025.

The Scottish Conservative and Labour parties were even more outspoken.

"Only the most fanatical SNP supporters will buy Nicola Sturgeon's wild conspiracy theory that the UK is trying to make Scotland poorer. Instead of focusing on the NHS crisis and protecting jobs, Nicola Sturgeon has invented her own nationalist 'Project Fear'," Scottish Conservative MP Donald Cameron said.

Sturgeon's speech was the "same old rhetoric, slogans, and platitudes," Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also said.

"Nicola Sturgeon's spin does nothing to tackle the levels of child poverty on our streets, the numbers waiting for treatment in our hospitals, and the depth of the economic crisis facing Scotland," he added.

The SNP now plans to table a bill for a second independence vote in the Scottish parliament.

But if the British government blocks this, the legality of the referendum project would have to be decided in court.

The first referendum, in 2014, saw 55 percent of Scottish people vote to stay in the UK.


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