Brexit Chaos Renews Scottish Drive for Independence Vote

(Bloomberg) -- The leader of Scotland’s pro-independence government vowed to push for another vote on leaving the U.K. within two years to protect the country from the consequences of Brexit.

Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of the semi-autonomous administration in Edinburgh, said the political system in London had failed Scotland, ignoring its vote to stay in the European Union and undermining the powers already granted to the Scottish Parliament. She aims to hold a vote within the lifetime of the current parliament, or by 2021, and called on the legislature to unite in the “national interest” and uphold democracy.

“The Westminster system of government simply doesn’t serve Scotland’s interests,” she said in a speech on Brexit and Scotland’s future on Wednesday. “The case for Scottish independence is stronger than ever.”

Brexit Chaos Renews Scottish Drive for Independence Vote

Sturgeon has been under pressure from factions within her Scottish National Party to lay out a vision for another vote on independence as Brexit tears apart British politics. Ardent supporters of a breakaway say the turmoil provides the opportunity to rally the nationalist troops, though her government has been focusing on trying to keep all of the U.K. within the EU’s customs arrangements and single market.

Indeed, few polls show majority support for independence. What’s more, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has refused to allow a rerun of the 2014 referendum, when the Scottish electorate opted to stay in Britain. Any vote needs the agreement of the U.K. to make it legal. May’s spokesman reiterated her opposition on Wednesday, saying the last plebiscite was meant to be a "once in a generation" event.

The U.K. government says the focus now must be on delivering Brexit. Already delayed, there’s a chance the divorce from the bloc turns out to be a softer split than the one May initially envisaged. If so, that would be more palatable to the Scots and weaken the case for independence.

Fighting Talk

Every region of Scotland voted to stay in the EU in 2016, while the SNP is the third-largest party in the U.K. Parliament. Initially, Sturgeon came out fighting and demanded another referendum, pushing legislation through the Scottish Parliament.

In the U.K. election a year later that cost May’s Conservatives their parliamentary majority, it was a different story in Scotland. The vote turned into a judgment on whether to pursue another independence referendum, costing the SNP at least twice as many districts as it expected to lose and boosting the Tories.

Sturgeon and her pro-independence supporters retreated, promising to focus on education and the economy. The SNP has also been faced with a scandal over former party leader Alex Salmond, who was charged sexual assault. He denies any wrongdoing.

When it comes to independence, it also is confronted with an electorate that’s still divided after voting 55 percent to 45 percent to remain in the U.K. in 2014. The latest polls show support for breaking away has barely shifted, though the SNP retains a double-digit lead in party support and has shown itself to be a powerful political machine.

The Conservatives, which govern the U.K. though are the main opposition party in Scotland, said Sturgeon’s speech was typically divisive. The country is tired of constitutional politics, acting leader Jackson Carlaw said.

Sturgeon’s team has been trying to bolster the economic argument for full autonomy and to allay concerns over what currency an independent Scottish state would use. During the last campaign, doubts over whether it could keep the pound cost votes. The SNP plans to keep the pound until it can transition to its own currency.

Scotland currently has control over domestic affairs such as health, education, transportation and a proportion of income tax. One key area is that the Scottish government says Brexit threatens the country’s ability to keep the door open to immigrants who are vital to the economy. Sturgeon this month introduced a support package for EU citizens concerned about the status because of Brexit.

“Scotland should be a thriving and driving force within Europe,” Sturgeon said on Wednesday. “Instead we face being forced to the margins -- sidelined within a U.K. that is, itself, increasingly sidelined on the international stage. Independence, by contrast, would allow us to protect our place in Europe.”

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