Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says she will seek another referendum on independence from the United Kingdom, arguing that Scotland must choose whether it wants to be part of post-Brexit Britain, or seek its own relationship with the European Union.
Ms. Sturgeon's speech came at the start of a week during which Prime Minister Theresa May's government is expected to push a bill through the House of Commons in London that will trigger the two-year process to take the Britain out of the EU, following last year's shocking U.K.-wide vote in favour of Brexit.
While the U.K. voted narrowly in favour of Brexit, Scotland voted by a wide margin – 62 per cent to 38 per cent – in favour of remaining part of the EU.
A vote on Scottish independence could rip apart the U.K., with implications for Northern Ireland and Gibraltar, where majorities also voted in favour of remaining in the EU.
Ms. Sturgeon said staying in the U.K. as it moved toward a "hard Brexit" – meaning full departure from the common market, with no deal to preserve the free movement of labour – would mean not only risks to the Scottish economy, but also to "how open, welcoming, diverse and fair" a society Scotland would be part of.
"It is not just our relationship with Europe that is at stake," she said in a speech in Edinburgh. "What is at stake is the kind of country we will become."
Ms. Sturgeon said she would seek to hold the referendum after the terms of Brexit become clear, but before the U.K. formally withdraws from the EU. That would mean a vote sometime between the summer of 2018, and the spring of 2019.
However, Scotland's parliament does not have legal authority to call a referendum on its own, meaning Ms. May must decide whether she wants to allow a Scottish independence vote to be held as the same time as she is already trying to guide the U.K. through the uncertainty of the Brexit process.
"The evidence clearly shows that a majority of people in Scotland do not want a second independence referendum," reads a statement from the Ms. May's office that was e-mailed to reporters on Monday. "Another referendum would be divisive and cause huge economic uncertainty at the worst possible time."
The last referendum on Scottish independence, held in September 2014, was narrowly won by the pro-union side, with 55 per cent of Scots voted in favour of remaining part of the U.K. During that campaign, both Ms. Sturgeon and her predecessor as first minister, Alex Salmond, referred to the vote as a once-in-a-generation event.
But Ms. Sturgeon argued on Monday that the U.K.'s decision to leave Europe represented a "material change" from the circumstances Scots voted under in 2014.
She said she had sought to get Ms. May to take Scotland's interests into account during Brexit negotiations with the rest of the EU. Those attempts had failed, she said, as Ms. May's government moved towards a "hard Brexit" that included leaving the single market and refusing to compromise on issues like the free movement of labour.
"I cannot pretend to the Scottish people that a compromise agreement looks remotely likely," Ms. Sturgeon said. "Whatever path we take, it should be decided by us, not for us."