EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND – Scotland will start preparing for an independence referendum before May 2021 without permission from London, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Wednesday.
Scotland, part of the United Kingdom for more than 300 years, rejected independence by 10 percentage points in a 2014 referendum.
But differences over Brexit have strained relations with England and the British government in London.
“A choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation should be offered in the lifetime of this Parliament,” Sturgeon told Scotland’s devolved Parliament.
She said that a devolved Parliament bill will be drawn up before the end of the year, and that Scotland does not need permission at this stage from London.
London’s approval would, however, eventually be necessary “to put beyond doubt or challenge our ability to apply the bill to an independence referendum,” she said.
The United Kingdom voted 52-48 to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, but while Wales and England vote to leave, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay.
In the campaign for the 2014 independence referendum, unionists said that the only way for Scotland to stay in the European Union was to remain within the United Kingdom.
The Scottish National Party (SNP), which controls the devolved Parliament in Edinburgh, says that a second referendum is justified because Scotland is now being dragged out of the bloc against its will.
With most Scots unhappy at Brexit, Sturgeon is under pressure from supporters of independence to offer a clear way forward in the quest to break from the United Kingdom.
Britain is mired in political chaos, and it is still unclear whether, when or even if it will leave the European Union.
Since Scots rejected independence by 55 to 45 percent in 2014, opinion polls show that support has changed little.
Before the SNP spring conference is held this weekend, supporters of an independent Scotland were to launch a new campaign on Thursday for a second referendum on secession from the United Kingdom, hoping to harness voters’ anger over Brexit.
Under the crowd-funded initiative Voices for Scotland, which has some 100,000 supporters, clipboard-wielding activists will fan out across Scotland to try to boost support for the nation’s secession to the range of 50 to 60 percent.
“I get the sense that we are in the death throes of the United Kingdom, that it is a very unstable construct,” said Maggie Chapman, one of the leaders of Voices for Scotland and also co-convenor of the Scottish Greens party.
“One of the things that ‘no’ or undecided voters said to me in 2014, in the run-up to that referendum (on Scottish independence), was: ‘Why, what do you want to change? The U.K. is fine as it is,'” said Chapman.
“Brexit tells us that the U.K. is not OK — not only in terms of economic legitimacy and power, but in terms of trust in politics,” she said.
Scotland’s “yes” movement took support for independence to 45 percent in 2014 from around 23 percent in 2012.
The new initiative will train campaigners to go out and “listen to what people need to help them become supportive of independence, as well as to persuade them of its merits,” Voices for Scotland said in a statement.
It has so far raised about £100,000 ($130,000) to train and support campaigners to spread the word on “every street in Scotland,” Chapman said.
Its aim is particularly to target those who are undecided about Scottish independence or “who support the union but have had their faith undermined by recent events.”
John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University and Britain’s leading polling expert, said Sturgeon was keeping her own troops happy while leaving her options open.
She probably has until October or November of 2020 to hold a new vote once Brexit happens, he said.
“I think she was implicitly acknowledging that while it might be impossible (to get permission) out of the current (U.K.) Parliament, it might be a lot easier if we get a general election between now and the end of the year, and the SNP may well find itself in the kingmaker role,” Curtice told Reuters.
Sturgeon’s address to Parliament took a noticeably conciliatory tone.
“The question that confronts us now is this: if the status quo is not fit for purpose — and I know even some of the most committed believers in the union find it hard to argue that it is — how do we fix it?” Sturgeon said.
Those who want to maintain the United Kingdom argue that Brexit has made no difference to how Scots feel, and the secession vote should not be repeated.
“Nicola Sturgeon continues to press for divisive constitutional change when it is clear that most people in Scotland do not want another independence referendum,” said David Mundell, Britain’s Scotland minister.
Sturgeon argued that leaving the world’s largest trading bloc endangers Britain and Scotland’s economic well-being.
“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.”