LONDON (Reuters) – Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Monday declined to rule out a new vote for Scottish independence next year and hinted she might go to court for permission to hold one if London tried to block it.
Scots rejected independence in 2014 but Brexit and the British government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis have bolstered support for secession, with most polls showing a majority now favour breaking up the United Kingdom.
Elections to Scotland’s devolved parliament will take place in May, and Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP) is expected to perform strongly, which it argues would be a mandate for another independence referendum.
Sturgeon said she wanted another vote “in the early part of the next term of the Scottish parliament rather than the later part”, declining to rule out a possible vote in autumn 2021.
“I’m not ruling anything out, I’m not ruling anything in,” she told Sky News.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the 2014 vote in which Scots voted 55-45 percent against independence was a decisive once in a generation event and his government says there should not be another referendum in the near future.
London must give permission for any plebiscite, and in remarks to BBC radio Sturgeon declined to preclude taking legal action should Johnson block another vote.
She noted that the question of “does the Scottish Parliament have the power to have a referendum, regardless of what Westminster says” had never been determined in the courts.
“What’s not, in my view, legitimate or acceptable is for him to say that it’s not for the Scottish people to decide.”
Polls show Johnson is unpopular in Scotland and his comment that devolution of powers to Edinburgh was a “disaster” was seen as playing into nationalists’ hands.
Brexit is also a major issue as a clear majority of Scots voted to remain in European Union in a 2016 referendum, even as the United Kingdom as whole voted 52-48 to leave.
“I think as we rebuild from COVID it’s really important that we have all of the tools and the powers to do that properly and that the country we’re rebuilding is the one that a majority of Scots want to see, not one in the image of Boris Johnson and his band of Brexiteers,” Sturgeon said.