Picking EU over UK? Scotland may offer post-Brexit bid at independence

Scottish voters rejected the Brexit referendum in June, when the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.

Jane Barlow/ PA/AP/File
Thousands of people take part in the 'All Under One Banner' march for Scottish independence through Glasgow city centre, Scotland, Saturday, July 30, 2016. The government may offer voters a new independence referendum after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.

A fresh push for independence has emerged in Scotland after a majority of voters across the United Kingdom approved a British exit, or Brexit, from the European Union, while Scottish voters opposed the departure.

Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of the Scottish National Party, announced Thursday that she aims to introduce legislation next week that could pave the way for another independence vote before Britain formally leaves the EU.

"Hear this: if you think for one single second that I'm not serious about doing what it takes to protect Scotland's interests, then think again," Ms. Sturgeon told a party conference in Glasgow, The Guardian reported.

Ignoring Scotland's parliamentary voice would be an act of "constitutional vandalism," Sturgeon added, challenging Brexit's legal basis.

"There is no rational case for taking the UK out of the single market, and there is no authority for it either," she told fellow party members.

In 2014, a referendum for Scottish independence from the UK failed, garnering only 45 percent of the vote.

During the June Brexit vote, however, Scots showed a clear divide on the issue of continued EU membership: 62 percent voted in favor of remaining in the bloc, versus 47 percent in England, 48 percent in Wales, and 56 percent in Northern Ireland. 

The issue has driven a political wedge between London and the leaders in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, and it may be shifting the nature of Scottish cultural identity, too, as The Christian Science Monitor's correspondent Peter Geoghegan reported earlier this year:

Just as political events out of London in the 1980s and '90s – including the policies of Margaret Thatcher and the creation of a Scottish parliament – spurred Scots to increasingly identify themselves as Scottish rather than British, so, too, could Brexit strengthen Scotland's relationship with Europe. As the English and other pro-Brexit groups in Britain push away from the European Union, Scots may increasingly embrace Europeanness as a way of distinguishing themselves from their neighbors to the south.

Laura Cram, a professor of politics at Edinburgh University, told the Monitor that this rise in pro-Europe sentiment could be more about Scots themselves than the benefits they see in maintaining close ties with Brussels.

"If you feel deprived of something then it matters to you even more," she said. "Not only did you not vote for it, but now someone is taking it away from you."

While the latest polls indicate that the Brexit has not significantly boosted public support for Scottish independence, the bill Sturgeon plans to introduce could prove itself useful as a bargaining chip by directly challenging British Prime Minister Theresa May's hardline Brexit approach. Sturgeon's spokesman told The Guardian that the bill's immediate goal is designed to give Scotland a full range of options for optimal leverage in the Brexit deal.

Sturgeon will seek to lead a group of opposition lawmakers, but her critics accuse of her playing partisan politics with serious issues.

"This isn't the action of a first minister of Scotland but an SNP fundamentalist who puts independence first, last, and always," said Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, The Guardian reported.

Citing economic challenges, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale added that another independence referendum is "the last thing we need."

Material from Reuters was included in this report.

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