A handout photo made available from the Scottish Parliament on March 21, 2017, shows Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking in the chamber on the first day of the ‘Scotland’s Choice’ debate on a motion to seek the authority to hold an indpendence referendum at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Scottish lawmakers on March 21 began 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. / AFP PHOTO / Scottish Parliament / Andrew Cowan
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday postponed plans for a second independence referendum, after a British general election in which her secessionist party suffered major losses.
“We will not introduce the legislation for an independence referendum immediately,” the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader told Scotland’s parliament in Edinburgh.
Sturgeon said she would “reset” the timetable for holding a referendum by spring 2019, when Britain is expected to leave the European Union.
She said she would look at the plan again in autumn 2018 when the outlines of the deal that Britain is to strike in the Brexit negotiations become clear.
The June 8 election “has re-opened the possibility, however narrow, of averting a hard Brexit and retaining membership of the single market”, she said.
Scotland voted by 55 percent against independence in a 2014 referendum.
But Sturgeon had argued that the Brexit referendum last year — in which Scotland voted to stay in the EU but Britain as a whole opted to leave — justified her demand for a second independence vote.
Prime Minister Theresa May, whose permission would be required for another independence ballot, had told her that “now is not the time” for a referendum.
“I think now is the time for the UK to be pulling together, not being driven apart,” May said.
– ‘Leaking credibility’ –
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson agreed with May that Sturgeon should end any lingering uncertainty by ruling out the prospect of a referendum for the rest of this parliamentary term.
“Most people simply don’t want this brought back anytime soon,” Davidson told the Scottish parliament.
She said the SNP leader was “in denial” and “leaking credibility and confidence in her leadership by the hour”.
In the June 8 general election, the SNP came first in Scotland but lost 21 parliamentary seats, prompting calls for Sturgeon to abandon plans for independence altogether.
Overall, May’s Conservatives lost their majority in parliament, and the premier is now under pressure to soften her demands in the Brexit negotiations with Brussels.
Davidson, in contrast, led the Conservatives to their best result in Scotland in three decades.
She has called for an “open Brexit” that makes economic growth the priority, while hardline Conservatives want a clean break with the European Union by leaving its single market.
Labour, Britain’s main opposition party, also remains firmly opposed to a second independence referendum in Scotland, where it used to be dominant.
The Brexit process has also raised a constitutional question over whether London would have to consult the Scottish parliament on the final deal.
May has indicated this would be the case, raising the stakes if the SNP is able to exercise an effective veto over the deal.
For now, Sturgeon restated her plea for May to allow Scottish ministers to join the negotiations between London and Brussels.
“The Scottish government will stand the best chance of positively influencing the Brexit outcome if we are at the table, with the full backing of our national parliament, arguing for the sensible option of staying in the single market,” she said.