Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Prime Minister, wants her compatriots to vote yet again next autumn on whether Scotland ought-to remain in the United Kingdom (U.K.) or become an independent state. A referendum on secession from the U.K. is to take place on October 19, 2023, said Sturgeon on Tuesday during the Scottish Parliament session in Edinburgh. Sturgeon said, “the time has come to put Scotland on the right track.”
Majority in Scotland rejected Brexit
“The time for independence has come,” Sturgeon said. She will ask Prime Minister Boris Johnson for formal approval of the referendum and involve the U.K.’s Supreme Court. She will never allow “Scottish democracy to be held captive by Boris Johnson or any other prime minister,” she told members of the regional parliament.
Johnson himself said in a first reaction to journalists on the flight to the NATO summit in Madrid that he would examine Sturgeon’s demands and react appropriately. But it is not the right time to talk about independence, he said, from Downing Street.
In a 2014 referendum, a majority of Scots (55 per cent) voted to remain in the U.K. However, that was before Brexit, which the northernmost part of Britain had rejected with a clear majority (62 per cent). The supporters of independence, therefore, hope that the situation will change if there is another vote. The question is set to be the same in 2023 as it was last time: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
Planned return to the E.U.
Sturgeon has a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament with her Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Greens. She wants to lead her part of the country with almost 5.5 million inhabitants, back to the European Union as an independent country after Brexit. Sturgeon said Boris Johnson’s Conservative British government tore Scotland out of the Union against its will and plunged it into a deep crisis with the rest of Britain. Cost of living crisis, labour shortages and the threat of a trade war with the E.U. – “our country deserves better”.
In order to pass a law to hold the referendum in the regional parliament, the approval of the government in London must first be obtained. But she refuses. Sturgeon, therefore, wants to override London if necessary. “I will not allow Scottish democracy to be held hostage by Boris Johnson,” said the 51-year-old. Experts expect lawsuits and legal hurdles.
Sturgeon wrote to the British Prime Minister and called on him to negotiate a referendum with her. Otherwise, the referendum law should be passed anyway. Their reasoning: The approval of the British government is not absolutely necessary under constitutional law since it is only a matter of a consultative referendum – Scotland does not automatically become independent as a result; it is only a matter of determining the will of the people.
In the coming months, the Scottish government plans to promote independence with documents on a range of issues, including tax and spending, defence, social affairs and E.U. membership and trade.
Parliamentary election as a “de facto referendum”
A Scottish legal expert considers the envisaged timetable to be unsustainable. “A lot is unpredictable. This is not a smooth process,” said lawyer Nick McKerrell from Glasgow Caledonian University to the German Press Agency shortly before the announcement. McKerrell said the law would first have to be passed through the Scottish Parliament. The following legal disputes could drag on for months. “I don’t think the time is realistic,” said the expert.
Sturgeon acknowledged that the road to independence would not be easy. However, she wants to forestall possible lawsuits: she herself called the Supreme Court – the highest court in the United Kingdom – to clarify whether her plans were legal. And even if the judges should conclude that a referendum would be illegal, Sturgeon still has a plan B: “If the law says it’s not possible, the next general election will become a de facto referendum.” Her party will then campaign solely on the independence issue, she announced.
British election expert John Curtice of the University of Strathclyde sees Sturgeon’s push as a new phase in the independence campaign. Only now that Great Britain has left the E.U. and the pandemic is no longer dominating the news agenda so much does the Scottish government have a chance to advance its goal. “She will hold a referendum,” Curtice said in a dpa interview, despite the rocky road ahead of Nicola Sturgeon. “She won’t give up.”