LONDON (Reuters) - Scotland will do whatever it takes to remain in the European Union, including potentially blocking the legal process behind Britain’s exit from the bloc, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Sunday.
Scotland, a nation of five million people, voted to stay in the EU by 62 to 38 percent in Thursday’s referendum, putting it at odds with the United Kingdom as a whole, which voted by 52 to 48 percent in favor of an exit from the bloc, or Brexit.
Sturgeon has said a new Scottish referendum on independence from the rest of the UK is “highly likely” if that is the best option to keep Scotland in the bloc.
“There are going to be deeply damaging and painful consequences of the process of trying to extricate the UK from the EU. I want to try and protect Scotland from that,” Sturgeon told BBC television.
Scots voted against independence by 55 to 45 percent in a 2014 referendum, after a campaign during which remaining in the EU was presented as a key reason to stick with the UK.
Scottish newspaper the Sunday Post published a poll by research firm ScotPulse, taken on Friday, that suggested support for independence had surged to 59 percent since the Brexit vote.
Sturgeon said she would seek a way of negotiating directly with the EU on the best way to achieve Scotland’s aim of staying in the bloc.
She said it would be “completely unacceptable” for whoever succeeds David Cameron as British prime minister to try and stop Scotland from holding a second independence referendum on the basis that the issue had been settled in 2014.
Under the UK’s complex arrangements to devolve some powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, legislation generated in London to give effect to the vote to leave the EU may have to gain consent from the three devolved parliaments.
Asked whether she would consider asking the Scottish parliament to block a motion of legislative consent, Sturgeon said: “Of course.”
“If the Scottish parliament was judging this on the basis of what’s right for Scotland, then the option of saying that we’re not going to vote for something that is against Scotland’s interest — of course that’s going to be on the table.”
However, a spokesman for Sturgeon later said that there was legal debate over whether a lack of Scottish consent would be enough to hold up the withdrawal, and that the Scottish government expected their London counterparts to say it was not needed.
Sturgeon said the Brexit vote was a game-changer that made it legitimate for Scotland to revisit the issue of independence.
“The context and the circumstances have changed dramatically. The UK that Scotland voted to remain within in 2014 doesn’t exist anymore,” she said.
A vote for independence would end the 300-year-old union between Scotland and England, its far more populous southern neighbor, dealing a body blow to the UK at a time when it is likely to still be dealing with the fallout from Brexit.
That could lead to border controls being set up between the two countries.
“I certainly don’t want to see in any circumstances a border between Scotland and England,” Sturgeon said. “Whatever happens here England is our nearest neighbor and will always I hope be our best friend but these are circumstances in which Scotland hasn’t chosen to be.”
Sturgeon’s pro-independence Scottish National Party holds 56 of the 59 seats representing Scotland in the national parliament in London, while in the devolved parliament in Edinburgh it has 63 seats out of 129.
Asked if she could imagine the fury of British voters who had made the choice to leave the EU if the Scottish parliament blocked Brexit, Sturgeon said:
“I can, but it’s perhaps similar to the fury of many people in Scotland right now as we face the prospect of being taken out of the European Union against our will.”
Additional reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary in Edinburgh; Editing by Anna Willard and Stephen Powell