19th Aug 2019

First minister: Brexit would trigger Scottish referendum

  • Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon laid out her vision of Scotland in the EU in a speech in Brussels on 2 June (Photo: Scottish Government)

Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon went to Brussels on Tuesday (2 June) to make the case for Scottish influence in the EU and warn British PM David Cameron of another independence referendum if the UK leaves the Union.

Noting that the attachment to Europe played a part in the independence referendum last year, Sturgeon said that a vote to leave the EU would trigger "a clamour for another independence referendum".

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  • Sturgeon said that the attachment to Europe played a part in the Scottish independence referendum last year. (Photo: Valentina Pop)

"If Scotland were to be taken out of Europe despite voting as a nation to have remained in it would provoke a strong backlash amongst many ordinary voters," she said, reiterating the Scottish independentists' claim for a "double majority".

According to this proposed double lock system, a Brexit would be possible only if Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland voted for it.

Sturgeon also said that Cameron's partners in Europe would not "do whatever it takes, regardless of the consequences for others, to keep the UK in".

"That is part of the reason I think David Cameron has set off down a very dangerous path that he can't necessarily control."

Invited by the European Policy Centre think tank, a relaxed and witty Sturgeon said she would "make an overwhelmingly positive case for Europe" and detailed her vision of a Scottish EU membership based on principles and interests.

"I believe unequivocally that membership in the European Union is in Scotland's best interest, and I happen to believe it is in UK's best interest as well," she said, noting that Scotland "can't act in isolation, whether as part of the UK or as an independent country".

"There is absolutely nothing contradictory in independent countries recognising their interdependence and choosing to pool some sovereignty for mutual advantage. On the contrary that is the way in the modern world," she said.

At the same time, she said, "Scotland's commitment to the EU is also founded on our awareness of the practical benefits that it brings", citing the fight against climate change as well as energy security, trade, social protection for workers and freedom to travel.

"The EU provides the market for almost half of our international exports," she noted, adding that "for many investors, EU membership is a vital selling point".


Sturgeon's commitment to Europe does not go so far as advocating that an independent Scotland adopt the euro.

"I don't think an independent Scotland is going to enter the euro in the forseeable future," she said.

Contrary to David Cameron, Nicola Surgeon thinks that "reforms [of the EU] can be implemented within the existing treaty framework rather than requiring treaty change".

But she said reforms should address two key priorities.

First, "the EU should focus on economic and social policies which should make a tangible difference to the lives of its citizens".


Sturgeon asks for more autonomy for local authorities, especially "to protect life and promote health", while the EU would be in charge of larger issues like the digital single market, international trade or energy policy.

The second priority pointed by the Scottish first minister is EU regulation, which "should be based on principles of subsidiarity and proportionality".

Heading a 5-million region that came close to independence last year, Nicola Sturgeon also posed as a would-be EU player.

Noting that "it is important that Scottish views and interests are reflected" in EU decision making, she suggested again that "a Scottish minister is able to replace a UK minister [at a council meeting] when he is absent in Brussels".

"We have a strong ability and a strong responsibility to make our voice heard," she said.

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