The Columbus Dispatch

Scotland’s Sturgeon will pursue secession

Calls for referendum in 2023 after COVID delay

- Jill Lawless

LONDON – Scotland’s leader said Monday that she will renew her push for independen­ce from the United Kingdom next year, with the aim of holding a referendum on secession in 2023.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the independen­ce campaign, stalled by the pandemic, “will resume in earnest” in spring 2022, “COVID permitting.”

“In the course of next year, I will initiate the process necessary to enable a referendum before the end of 2023,” Sturgeon told a conference of her Scottish National Party. “And just as importantl­y, our party will set out afresh the positive case for independen­ce.”

Scottish voters opted to remain part of the United Kingdom by a margin of 55% to 45% in a 2014 referendum that was billed as a once-in-a-generation choice. But the SNP, which heads the Edinburgh-based Scottish government, argues that Britain’s departure from the European Union last year has radically changed the political and economic landscape.

In a 2016 referendum, 52% of U.K. voters backed leaving the EU, but 62% of Scots voted to remain, and Sturgeon argues that Scotland has been dragged out of the 27-nation bloc against its will.

Sturgeon faces a big obstacle to a new independen­ce vote: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government must agree to a binding referendum. Johnson is adamant he won’t consent, meaning any push for a new referendum could end up in the courts.

Sturgeon says the fact that voters in May elected an independen­ce-supporting majority to the Scottish parliament – where the SNP governs with support from the pro-independen­ce Green Party – makes an inarguable moral case for a new referendum.

But she acknowledg­es that independen­ce supporters will have to make a new economic argument for breaking away from the U.K. In 2014, the SNP touted Scotland’s North Sea oil wealth as a bulwark of future prosperity. The Scottish government now accepts that fossil fuels must be phased out to fight climate change, potentiall­y leaving a big hole in Scotland’s finances, already battered by the pandemic.

Sturgeon told party members that her government would “be candid about the challenges the transition to independen­ce will present, and set out clearly how we can and will overcome them.”

“And then, friends, we will ask the people to decide,” she said.

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