Scotland to seek new independence referendum

Dario THUBURN
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Opinion polls show support for Scottish independence is broadly unchanged from 2014

Scotland will begin the process next week for making a request to the British government to hold a new independence referendum between late 2018 and early 2019, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Monday.

Her announcement came as British Prime Minister Theresa May was set this week to trigger the process of leaving the European Union after last year's Brexit vote.

"Next week I will seek the authority of the Scottish parliament to agree with the UK government... the procedure that will enable the Scottish parliament to legislate for an independence referendum," Sturgeon said.

But Sturgeon, leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), also held out the possibility of a compromise with the British government, saying: "I am not turning my back on further discussion."

Sturgeon said however that her requests for Scotland to be allowed to remain in the European single market even as the rest of Britain leaves had so far been met with "a brick wall of intransigence" from London.

"I cannot pretend to the Scottish people that a compromise agreement looks remotely likely," she said, adding: "I'm doing what I think is right for the country."

"In my view it is important that Scotland is able to exercise the right to choose our own future at a time when the options are clearer than they are now, but before it is too late to decide our own path."

Scotland rejected independence by 55 percent in a September 2014 vote and the British government says that settled the question.

But Sturgeon and her supporters argue that the Brexit vote changed all that since Scotland voted for Britain to remain in the EU by 62 percent in the June 2016 referendum.

A BMG survey of 1,009 people for Scottish broadsheet The Herald found that 56 percent of those who expressed views were against another independence vote before Brexit occurs.

Some 52 percent said they were against Scotland seceding from the UK.

But an Ipsos MORI poll showed support for independence on a knife-edge, with 49 percent of Scots in favour.

May has said she will fight for Britain as a whole, including Scotland, in the upcoming EU negotiations and the government has held out the promise of more autonomous powers for Scotland as some areas of EU control -- such as agriculture and fisheries -- are handed back to Britain.

But the SNP rank and file remain unconvinced and say the government's argument in the 2014 referendum that staying in Britain would mean remaining in the European Union constitutes a broken promise.

Many nationalist activists heading to the SNP conference starting on Friday are hopeful about the prospect for independence.

"A second referendum does now look inevitable though the timing of it remains unclear," Mark Diffley, director at Ipsos MORI Scotland, told AFP.