Scottish lawmakers backed plans by the nationalist government in Edinburgh to pursue a second independence referendum, setting up what promises to be a lengthy and acrimonious showdown within the U.K. in the midst of Brexit negotiations.
Parliament voted 69 to 59 on Tuesday to allow First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to request the legal means from the U.K. authorities to hold the plebiscite by spring 2019. The result was expected after the Greens said they would support Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party, ensuring a majority in the legislature.
The vote, which was postponed from last week because of the terrorist attack outside the U.K. Parliament in London, came a day before the U.K. triggers two years of talks on withdrawing from the European Union, something that Scotland opposes. Prime Minister Theresa May, who met Sturgeon in Glasgow on Monday as she tries to muster nationwide support for Brexit, has repeatedly rebuffed the plan for another Scottish referendum.
“It is now the will of Scotland’s democratically elected national parliament that discussions should begin with the U.K. government to enable an independence referendum to be held,” Sturgeon said after the vote. “People should be given that choice once the details of the U.K.’s Brexit deal are clear. Today’s vote must now be respected.”
It’s up to the Scottish government to issue a so-called Section 30 request to the U.K. for the temporary transfer of power to hold another plebiscite, using the previous one in September 2014 as precedent. Sturgeon said that would happen “within the next few days.”
The U.K. government repeated May’s mantra that now is the time to pull together rather than take separate paths. In a statement, the Scotland Office said the U.K. would not be entering negotiations on the Scottish government’s proposal and instead is focusing on the Brexit talks with the EU.
The dispute over who has the right to decide Scotland’s future and when is set to rumble on, and that might suit both parties for now.
Sturgeon is trying to build momentum in the polls for independence after being defeated last time, when the Scottish economy was performing better and the price of North Sea oil was almost twice what it is today.
The Conservative Party, which governs the U.K. though is the largest opposition group in the Scottish Parliament, says no referendum should take place, not least because there’s no public or political consent for one. Ruth Davidson, the party’s leader in Scotland, told lawmakers Sturgeon is trying to “spin some rationale” for her referendum timetable.
May said this month that “now is not the time” for a vote and wants to complete the pullout from the EU first. She argued that the SNP government’s plan to hold a referendum as early as the fall of next year would not give voters enough time to see the results of the Brexit negotiations.
Sturgeon said in the Scottish Parliament’s first debate last week that she’s open to discussions on the timing of the vote if the U.K. presents “a clear alternative and the rationale for it,” though she insisted that she has a mandate to call a referendum because Brexit means the status quo is no longer an option.
Bookmaker William Hill Plc puts the chances of another independence vote by the end of 2020 at 65 percent and offers odds that Scots will choose to go it alone when the time comes. They voted 55 percent to 45 percent to stay in the U.K. the last time and then 62 percent to 38 percent to remain in the EU in June last year.
Scottish Parliament Backs Independence Vote and Defies UK – Bloomberg