LONDON – Scottish nationalist leader Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday raised the prospect of another independence referendum that could break apart the United Kingdom following the 2016 Scottish election.
Though Scots voted to stay part of the United Kingdom in a Sept. 18 referendum, support for the Scottish National Party (SNP) has surged before a U.K.-wide election on May 7 and opinion polls indicate nationalists will win 35-50 of the 59 seats in Scotland, up from six in 2010.
After losing last year’s referendum, the SNP suggested there wouldn’t be another vote of its kind for a generation. But Sturgeon raised the prospect of another vote in 2016 after a Scottish parliamentary election.
Speaking in a four-way televised debate in Scotland with the leaders of the Scottish Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties, she said she still wanted independence, before saying next month’s U.K.-wide election was not a re-run of the referendum.
When asked whether the SNP would seek a mandate for another breakaway vote in the 2016 election, she said: “Well that is another matter. We will write that manifesto when we get there.”
Her response prompted an audible groan from the studio audience in Edinburgh, one of whom told her that the people had spoken and said “no” to independence.
With neither Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives nor Ed Miliband’s Labour Party forecast to win an overall majority, the SNP aims to win a “kingmaker” position by taking many of the 41 Scottish seats that Labour won in the 2010 election.
“We will work with Labour to keep David Cameron out of Downing Street,” said Sturgeon.
When asked directly by Jim Murphy, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, if she wanted Miliband to be prime minister, Sturgeon said:
“I don’t want David Cameron to be prime minister. I am offering to help make Ed Miliband prime minister.”
“Nicola, we don’t need your help,” said Murphy, who has warned voters that a vote for the SNP could allow Cameron to win the election by dividing the opposition vote.
“The votes of Scotland will decide whether David Cameron gets to stay or whether he has to go,” Murphy said.
In the most unpredictable British election since the 1970s, once marginal parties such as the SNP and the UK Independence Party are threatening to tear up the certainties of the post-1945 two-party system.
It is unclear whether either of the two major parties could scrabble together a durable government for the $2.8 trillion economy.
The stakes are high: If Cameron wins, he has promised a referendum on European Union membership.
Sturgeon, who took over from Alex Salmond as SNP leader in November 2014, said she would push for modest state spending increases and proposed the unilateral scrapping of Britain’s submarine-based nuclear deterrent.
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