Scottish lawmakers debate new referendum

2017-03-21 16:19
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon smiles during a cabinet meeting. (Jane Barlow, PA via AP)

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon smiles during a cabinet meeting. (Jane Barlow, PA via AP)

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Edinburgh - Scottish lawmakers on Tuesday begin a two-day debate on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's call for an independence referendum - a major headache for Prime Minister Theresa May as she prepares to launch Brexit.

The Scottish parliament is expected to vote on Wednesday to endorse Sturgeon's call for a second vote, less than three years after Scots rejected independence in a 2014 referendum.

Willing to negotiate

Sturgeon's Scottish National Party (SNP), which runs the semi-autonomous government in Edinburgh, says Britain's vote to leave the EU means Scots should be able to reconsider.

She called last week for a vote between autumn 2018 and spring 2019 - before Brexit, which now looks set to take place in March 2019.

May has said that "now is not the time" for a new vote and can block Sturgeon's request even if the Scottish parliament approves it this week.

But the SNP leader has said such a move would be "democratically indefensible", although she has signalled she is willing to negotiate on a date.

"This crucial decision over our future should not be made unilaterally by me, or by the prime minister," Sturgeon said.

"It should be made by the people of Scotland and I call on parliament to give the people that choice."

She said her Brexit compromise for Scotland to be allowed to remain in the European single market even as the rest of Britain leaves had been met with "a brick wall of intransigence" in London.

The SNP does not have an outright majority in the Scottish parliament, but it has already secured the support of the Green party for another independence bid.

Independence vote

Patrick Harvie, leader of the Greens, said: "I think Theresa May will be taking a huge risk... if she refuses to acknowledge that we have a right in Scotland to have a say about our future."

Scotland voted against independence by 55% in September 2014, but the campaign left the unionist camp politically divided while nationalists flocked to the SNP in droves.

The SNP won all but three Scottish seats in the British parliament in 2015 and Sturgeon was re-elected to the Scottish assembly in May 2016 on a pledge to hold another independence vote if Scotland was "dragged out" of the EU against its will.

The SNP gained twice as many votes as the other parties and Scotland was outvoted by England and Wales in the Brexit referendum in June 2016, sparking a fresh constitutional crisis.

Read more on:    theresa may  |  nicola sturgeon  |  scotland  |  independence  |  brexit

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