Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed her plans to hold another independence referendum by the spring of 2019.
At a press conference on Monday morning at the first minister’s official residence, Bute House in Edinburgh, Sturgeon said the UK government had failed to compromise with her ahead of the triggering of Article 50.
The first minister said she will now seek permission from the Scottish parliament to begin plans for another vote on independence towards the end of the UK government’s Brexit negotiations between autumn 2018 and spring the following year.
Sturgeon said voters in Scotland, who decisively rejected Brexit in last year’s referendum on EU membership, deserved the chance “to decide our future in a fair, free, and democratic way” when the terms of Brexit are known.
“I will continue to stand up for Scotland’s interests during the process of Brexit negotiations,” said the first minister. “But I will take the steps necessary now to make sure that Scotland will have a choice at the end of this process.
“A choice of whether to follow the UK to a hard Brexit, or to become an independent country able to secure a real partnership of equals with the rest of the UK and our own relationship with Europe.”
The first minister has to gain the permission of the Scottish parliament to allow her to begin negotiating the terms – such as the question, franchise, and timing – of a future independence referendum with the UK government.
Such an arrangement, known as the Edinburgh Agreement, was reached ahead of the 2014 independence referendum, in which voters in Scotland rejected independence by a margin of 55% to 45%.
Although Sturgeon only leads a minority SNP administration, the pro-independence Scottish Green party has confirmed it will support the first minister and so she will be supported by the majority of the Scottish parliament.
Once Sturgeon gains Holyrood’s permission, it will then be down to the UK government and Scottish government to outline the legal terms of the vote in what is known as a “section 30” order.
Although the prime minister technically holds the power to refuse permission for a second independence referendum, May has previously stopped short of saying she would be prepared to do that.
“The UK government was clear in 2014 that an independence referendum should be, in their words, made in Scotland, by the people of Scotland,” said Sturgeon. “That is a principle that should be respected today. The detailed arrangements for a referendum – including its timing – should be for the Scottish parliament to decide.”
Polls in Scotland have suggested there’s been a small increase in support for independence over the past few months as it became clear May will be seeking to take the whole UK out of the European single market, with one poll last week putting public opinion at 50/50.
However, every opposition party in Scotland – excluding the Scottish Greens – have repeatedly called on Sturgeon to take the prospect of an independence referendum off the table for another generation.
“If I ruled out a referendum, I would be deciding – completely unilaterally – that Scotland will follow the UK to a hard Brexit come what may, no matter how damaging to our economy and our society it turns out to be,” said Sturgeon, predicting criticism of her position.
“That should not be the decision of just one politician – not even the first minister. It will be decided by the people of Scotland. It will be Scotland’s choice.”
A UK government spokesman said another vote on independence would be “divisive” and that Sturgeon’s suggested time frame for the vote would be “the worst possible time”.
“As the prime minister has set out, the UK government seeks a future partnership with the EU that works for the whole of the United Kingdom,” said the spokesperson. “The UK government will negotiate that agreement, but we will do so taking into account the interests of all of the nations of the UK.
“We have been working closely with all the devolved administrations – listening to their proposals, and recognising the many areas of common ground, including workers’ rights, the status of EU citizens living in the UK, and our security from crime and terrorism.
“Only a little over two years ago people in Scotland voted decisively to remain part of our United Kingdom in a referendum which the Scottish government defined as a ‘once in a generation’ vote.
“The evidence clearly shows that a majority of people in Scotland do not want a second independence referendum. Another referendum would be divisive and cause huge economic uncertainty at the worst possible time.
“The Scottish government should focus on delivering good government and public services for the people in Scotland.”
The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, strongly criticised Sturgeon’s announcement and said that it meant she had “given up acting as first minister for all of Scotland”.
“Today [Sturgeon] has ignored the majority in Scotland who do not want a referendum and has decided instead to double down on division and uncertainty,” said Davidson.
“The first minister’s proposal offers Scotland the worst of all worlds. Her timetable would force people to vote blind on the biggest political decision a country could face.
“This is utterly irresponsible and has been taken by the first minister purely for partisan political reasons.”