By Kate Holton
LONDON (Reuters) – The “sheer intransigence” of the British government over Brexit could lead to a second Scottish independence referendum, the head of the devolved Scottish government said on Tuesday.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, elected leader in 2014 after an unsuccessful referendum to break away from the United Kingdom, has long said she will seek to give Scots a second vote if they are forced into a “hard Brexit” that would end their preferential access to the EU’s single market and free movement of labor.
The Edinburgh government has proposed a bespoke deal for Scotland to stay in the single market while the rest of the United Kingdom – England, Wales and Northern Ireland – leaves.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly said she is determined to negotiate a deal that works for all parts of the country, which she wants to hold together.
In a speech in Edinburgh, Sturgeon spoke of an “attack” on Scotland’s devolved powers by UK politicians who saw Brexit as a way to “claw back ground.”
She said the British government “speaks the language of partnership but in reality … pays scant, if any, heed to Scotland’s democratic voice. The question we face, is how to respond to it.”
Edinburgh has had legislation ready for a new “indyref”, as a vote is known, since October and sources say it could call as early as next month for a referendum when May formally triggers the Brexit process.
Writing in The Times newspaper, Sturgeon said Britain’s vote to leave the EU had changed the landscape since Scotland last held a referendum on its independence, voting by a 10-point margin to remain part of the United Kingdom in 2014.
“If an independence referendum does arise, it will not be down to bad faith on the part of the Scottish government, but to sheer intransigence on the part of the UK government,” Sturgeon said.
It is a gamble. Sturgeon wants to be sure she can win but opinion polls show a small majority against splitting up the UK. The British government has repeated that it believes that there should be no second referendum.
The threat of a second vote further complicates May’s strategy to pull Britain out of the bloc in what are already some of the most complicated negotiations since World War Two.
If May were to block a new Scotland vote, she could risk a constitutional crisis. If she accepted it, she could risk splitting the United Kingdom.
May’s senior ministers spent much of last week’s cabinet meeting speaking about their support for the integrity of the United Kingdom, a spokesman said, signaling rising concern about the Scottish National Party’s threats to break the three-century-old union between England and Scotland.
Scottish lawmakers have complained that their opinions are not taken seriously in London despite May’s assertions that the nations within the UK would be consulted regularly before and during the negotiations with the European Union.
In June’s EU referendum, voters in England and Wales supported leaving while Scots backed staying inside by a large majority. Northern Ireland, which has a land border with EU member Ireland, also voted to remain.
Although sources told Reuters last week that the Scottish government was increasingly confident it could win a second independence vote, Sturgeon said no decision had yet been taken.
“It is not too late for the UK government to change course, but time is running out,” she wrote in The Times.
(additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper; editing by Elisabeth O’Leary and Jeremy Gaunt)