Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told lawmakers in Edinburgh Tuesday that she plans to hold a fresh referendum on Scotland's independence on Oct. 19, 2023.
Sturgeon said the question to be asked will be the same as that in Scotland’s first independence vote in 2014: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
Scottish voters rejected independence in 2014, with 55% saying they wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom.
But Sturgeon, who leads the Scottish National Party and the devolved government in Scotland, says it’s time to revisit the matter because of changes brought about by Britain’s exit from the European Union — a move opposed by a majority of Scots.
“My determination is to secure a process that allows the people of Scotland, whether yes, no or yet to be decided, to express their views in a legal, constitutional referendum so the majority view can be established fairly and democratically,” she said Tuesday.
The U.K.-wide government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson opposes a new referendum and has repeatedly said the issue was settled in 2014. Any independence vote will not be legally binding without approval from Johnson’s government.
Sturgeon said Scotland’s top law official will ask the U.K. Supreme Court on Tuesday if the Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate for a consultative referendum on independence.
She added that she would be writing to Johnson to inform him of her plans and make clear that she is “ready and willing” to negotiate the terms of how Scotland’s devolved government will have the power to hold a legal referendum.
Even if the referendum does go ahead, a majority vote will not by itself make Scotland independent from the rest of the U.K.
“For Scotland to become independent following a yes vote, legislation would have to be passed by the U.K. and Scottish Parliaments,” Sturgeon stressed.
Sturgeon maintains that her party's success in local elections last year gives her a mandate for a fresh referendum. While the Scottish National Party did not win overall control in the Scottish Parliament, the election of a record number of Scottish Green lawmakers means there is a majority for a new independence vote.
Sturgeon said that if there was no lawful way for the Scottish government to hold a referendum, and if Johnson’s government refused to grant permission for such a vote, she would fight the next U.K. general election on the single issue of independence.
Opposition parties have criticized Sturgeon for her “obsession” with holding a new independence vote and say she should instead be focused on more practical matters such as tackling the soaring cost of living.
Like Wales and Northern Ireland, Scotland has its own parliament and devolved government and makes its own policies on public health, education and other matters. But the U.K.-wide government in London controls matters such as defense and fiscal policy.