GLASGOW, Scotland (Reuters) - Nicola Sturgeon told her Scottish National Party on Tuesday that Britain’s impending exit from the European Union strengthened the case for Scottish independence from the UK and that her party still has a mandate to offer a choice.
“With the UK government so engulfed in chaos and taking the country down a path of self-imposed decline, the need to (make the case for independence) has never been greater,” she told the party faithful gathered in Scotland’s biggest city, adding that it was not clear when a new vote would be held.
“We have a mandate to give the people that choice,” she said. “That mandate was won fairly and squarely. But exercising it must be done with the interests of all of Scotland at heart.”
However Sturgeon, who also heads the devolved Scottish government, saw her party lose more than a third of its seats in Britain’s June election after it mistimed a push for another vote on secession.
In a 2014 referendum, Scotland voted to stay part of the UK. Two years later, when Britain held its referendum on EU membership, Scots voted overwhelmingly to stay but Britain as a whole voted to leave.
The SNP said the prospect of being dragged out of the EU against their will meant Scots should revisit the question of independence. But the wider public does not seem to have embraced the prospect of yet another vote on constitutional change.
This summer the SNP put vote plans on hold, and much of the conference centered on measures — such as doubling childcare and banning fracking — aimed at seizing the initiative and squaring up to criticism that it has been ignoring day-to-day affairs.
As Brexit drags on, support for the EU in Scotland is rising, according to polls, but backing for Sturgeon’s independence proposal has stayed roughly where it was in 2014.
Britain’s economy has slowed sharply this year as consumers felt the pinch from rising inflation, caused largely by a fall in the value of the pound and by weak wage growth.
Some delegates expressed concern at the limited traction that they feel Scotland has regarding Brexit, the biggest change in British politics in 40 years.
Scotland and Wales are angry because they say they have not been given a meaningful role in the Brexit process, something the UK government denies. They are threatening to withhold legislative consent to the UK government’s EU withdrawal bill which they say would water down their devolved powers.
The bill, currently going through parliament in London, is designed to convert all existing EU laws into domestic ones and is part of Britain’s plan to provide legal clarity before it parts ways with the EU.
“I think the SNP is being very vocal and people like (Scotland’s Brexit minister) Mike Russell are doing a good job,” said Mhairi McCabe, 58, a retired food safety expert. “But I don’t think they are being listened to. It’s quite frustrating.”
Infighting within the British government over the shape of Brexit means nothing can be taken for granted, Sturgeon has said, and Scotland will use the opportunity to continue to argue for the UK to stay in the European single market.
Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary; editing by Stephen Addison