Now that Britain has decided to leave the European Union, Scotland could decide to leave Britain. In the opening speech of the annual conference of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Nicola Sturgeon is adamant about it, announcing that a draft law to hold a new referendum on independence will be presented next week. According to the prime minister of Scotland, the plan is to conclude the parliamentary process before March 2019, when UK should be officially out of EU.
Before the previous referendum on independence in 2014, when Scottish separatists were sharply defeated, Sturgeon stated that it was a once in a lifetime chance and that the result should be accepted for at least a generation. Now she backtracks. Although, to be fair, only partially, because more recently the Scottish Premier said that she was ready to fight for a new referendum if British people had opted out of the UE.
Addressing her British counterpart, Theresa May, Sturgeon issued a stark warning: «If you think for one single second that I’m not serious about doing what it takes to protect Scotland’s interests, then think again. If you can’t or won’t allow us to protect our interests in the UK, then Scotland will reserve the right to decide, again, if we want to take another route».
A new Scottish referendum is a risky bet for the SNP leader. All the polls show that at the moment only 38% of the electorate would vote for independence, with 47% who would vote against and 12% still undecided. But if, as it seems more and more likely, May were to follow the path of “hard Brexit”, giving up the access to the single market in exchange for full control on immigration, the situation could change dramatically, considering that Scotland voted Remain with an overwhelming majority.
In her speech, Sturgeon also announced that she will ask May for more powers for Scotland on issues that so far were within the competence of the European Union as agriculture and fisheries. That’s not all, because she went further on, warning that Scotland will fight to stay in the single market even if Britain were to decide to get out and that policies on immigration will be decided in Edinburgh and not in London.
And it is precisely on immigration that from the SNP conference came the harshest attacks on May and the Conservatives. According to Sturgeon, «the Tories and those who speak in their name should be ashamed» for the intolerance recently shown to foreigners. «The right wing of the party has taken possession of the referendum and is using Brexit as a licence to vent to the xenophobia that has long remained under the surface».
Sturgeon’s speech didn’t go down well with her opponents, especially with Ruth Davidson, Tories’ leader in Scotland. «Her comments show she has given up on speaking for Scotland and is now solely playing to the SNP gallery. This isn’t the action of a first minister of Scotland, but of an SNP fundamentalist who puts independence first, last and always».