By Elisabeth O’Leary
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Wednesday her pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) would not press for a second independence referendum until it was clear most Scots wanted to leave the United Kingdom.
Sturgeon was speaking to supporters ahead of a May 5 vote in which the SNP is on course to win another overall majority in Scotland’s devolved parliament, giving it a further five years in government in Edinburgh, according to polls.
“If there is to be a second referendum – whether that is in the next parliament or in a future parliament – we first have to earn the right to propose it,” she told an enthusiastic crowd of SNP supporters in Edinburgh.
“Setting the date for a referendum before a majority of the Scottish people have been persuaded that independence — and therefore another referendum — is the best future for our country is the wrong way round,” she added.
Scottish voters rejected independence by 55 to 45 percent in a referendum in 2014, but the SNP went on to win a sweeping victory in a national British election in 2015, taking all but three of Scotland’s 59 seats in parliament in London.
The upcoming Scottish parliament will have unprecedented powers over taxes after a last-minute pledge by the British government just before the 2014 referendum, when it looked as though the secessionists might win.
The SNP has been in power in Scotland since 2007 and attracts most of the pro-independence vote. Support for keeping the United Kingdom as one, however, is much more fragmented between Britain’s mainstream parties.
The SNP’s manifesto pledges another independence vote if Scotland is forced out of the European Union “against its will” via a British referendum vote to leave the bloc on June 23.
Asked how Britain leaving the EU could affect the independence cause, were Scotland to vote to stay in, Sturgeon said: “We will judge that situation if it arises, but I’m not going any further with that because I don’t want the UK to vote to leave European Union.”
“(After the vote) we will continue to make the case for independence on its much broader merits,” she said.
Sturgeon has been cautious in using new tax powers, despite talking of opposing austerity imposed by Britain’s Conservative government, and some Scottish parties are proposing higher taxes aimed at helping the worst-off.
“Yes, we have to use new powers to mitigate austerity as much as we can (…) But we take the view that if every time (British finance minister) George Osborne proposes a cut we ask people in Scotland to write a cheque to cover it, we are penalizing people in Scotland.”
By Elisabeth O’Leary