January 31, 2020 / 10:19 AM / 18 days ago

Scotland's Sturgeon: Could test power to call consultative independence vote in court

LONDON (Reuters) - Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Friday she did not rule out testing the legality of calling a consultative referendum on independence if Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government continued to oppose another vote.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reacts as she delivers a speech, on Brexit day, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Speaking in Edinburgh on the day Britain leaves the European Union, Sturgeon said the question of whether the Scottish Parliament had the power to agree to hold a non-binding vote on independence had never been tested in court.

“Now, should the UK government continue to deny Scotland’s right to choose, we may reach the point where it is necessary for this issue to be tested,” she said.

“I am not ruling that out.”

Sturgeon wants to hold another Scottish referendum, but she cannot do so without the consent of the British government.

She has asked Johnson to enter negotiations on transferring power to hold a referendum from London to Edinburgh, and said on Friday such a step was the best way to put the legality of a vote beyond doubt.

She has previously signaled that she did not want to hold a Catalonia-style referendum, organized without the consent or recognition of the national government.

The Spanish region unilaterally declared independence in October 2017 following a referendum deemed illegal by courts, prompting Spain’s biggest political crisis in decades.

Sturgeon said on Friday a non-binding referendum could gauge the appetite for an independent Scotland.

But it was uncertain if one could be held under the Scottish government’s existing powers, she said, and a legal test could take the cause forward or equally set it back.

And it would still require the transfer of additional power from London to Edinburgh to implement any pro-independence result, she said.

Therefore she said it was better for Scottish nationalists to focus on building and winning the political case for independence.

“Firstly, I will continue to do all that I can to secure a referendum this year,” she said.

“Brexit has put Scotland on the wrong road. And the further down it we go, the longer it will take and the harder it will be to get back on the right one. We need to get back on the right road as soon as possible.”

A poll on Thursday showed that a slim majority of Scots now supported independence, bolstered by the support of those who previously rejected a split from the United Kingdom but who now back it because of their opposition to Brexit.

Scots previously rejected secession by 55% to 45% in a referendum in 2014.

Reporting by Paul Sandle; editing by Michael Holden and Hugh Lawson

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