EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Thursday she expects to provide more clarity on the timing of a possible new Scottish independence referendum in the coming weeks, regardless of whether the time period in which Britain leaves the European Union is extended.
Sturgeon has been under pressure from her nationalist party supporters to set another vote on independence since Britain became mired in the complexities of leaving the European Union.
She has been indicating for months that she would provide clarity on the secession issue once the outcome of Brexit was clear.
Asked to confirm if this would be in coming weeks regardless of the timing on Brexit being pushed back by an extension to the Article 50 negotiation period, she replied “yes.”
“It could be that the extension of Article 50 could be a reprieve of Brexit and not a solution, so yes, there is water to go under the bridge in a matter of weeks, and when it has done so I will make my views on a choice on independence clear,” she told the Scottish parliament.
Scotland, which has 8 percent of the United Kingdom’s population, voted to keep its EU membership in 2016 although Britain as a whole voted to leave in a referendum. Relations between Edinburgh’s devolved government and Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government have been strained ever since.
However any binding vote on Scottish secession must take place via a so-called Section 30 order granted by Britain’s parliament. In 2017, May declined to give permission for such a vote while Brexit was going on.
“That option of independence must be open and when the people of Scotland have the ability to choose, I believe that Scotland will opt to be an independent country,” Sturgeon said.
In a 2014 referendum, Scots voted 55 to 45 percent against breaking away from the United Kingdom. Support for independence is still at around 45 percent, though polls show increasing Scottish opposition to May’s Brexit plans.
Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary; editing by Stephen Addison