Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called for a second referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom at an event hosted by the School of Foreign Service on Monday. Sturgeon renewed calls for Scottish independence because of rifts between the Scottish and British Parliaments exacerbated by differing views on Brexit.
As the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, scheduled for March 29, draws nearer with no agreement in sight, Scotland must decide how to deal with a forced removal from the EU. However, a majority of Scots who participated in the 2016 Brexit referendum voted to remain in the EU. Sturgeon, who as first minister is the head of the Scottish Government, said the disagreement leads her to believe Scotland’s interests would be best served if it were an independent country.
“I will set out my thoughts and the timing of another independence referendum in the next few weeks, once the terms of Brexit have become clearer,” Sturgeon said. “But amid the confusion and the uncertainty of Brexit, one thing is clearer, I think, than ever: Scotland’s national interests are not being served by a Westminster system that too often treats Scotland an afterthought, or too often sees our interests as not being material.”
Sturgeon is the first woman to hold the office of first minister in Scotland, ascending to the position in 2014. Sturgeon spoke in Riggs at the Feb. 4 event, which was co-hosted by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.
While the U.K. as a whole voted in favor of leaving the EU with 52 percent of the vote, a majority of Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to stay. The voices of the 62 percent of Scottish voters who voted against leaving the EU have been disregarded by the U.K., according to Sturgeon.
“The U.K. government could have led discussions with the devolved nations and others about how to leave the EU. It could have considered and made compromises that took account of the differing views across different parts of the United Kingdom,” Sturgeon said. “But instead of that, the vote in Scotland has been ignored, and over the two-and-a-half years since it took place, our interests have been sidelined.”
The U.K. held the referendum to decide whether to leave the EU on June 23, 2016, with 71 percent voter turnout. The 52 percent vote in favor of leaving the EU was attributed to factors such as economic stagnancy within the EU and rise in U.K. nationalism, according to BBC News.
The U.K. Parliament rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan 10 weeks prior to the scheduled departure date. May survived a vote of no confidence in Parliament on Jan. 16 that could have removed her from the role of prime minister; however, the 325 to 306 rejection of the no-confidence motion showed diminishing support for May, according to The New York Times.
The U.K. Parliament’s lack of reception to Scottish concerns undermines the foundation of governance in the U.K., according to Sturgeon.
“It throws up the fundamental question about the way in which political decision-making is exercised in the United Kingdom, and indeed about the nature of the United Kingdom itself,” Sturgeon said.
Scottish independence movements have long sought for removing Scotland from the U.K. and become an independent country. Fifty-five percent of Scottish voters opted against leaving the U.K. in a 2014 referendum, with the uncertain ramifications of Scottish independence on its membership in the EU a major topic of discussion leading up to the November vote. Now, Scotland’s support for staying in the EU has fueled renewed requests for Scottish independence.
Arguments that leaving the EU will put more money in the pocketbooks of British citizens are unfounded, according to Sturgeon.
“By impeding free trade in order to end freedom of movement, the U.K. is in the bizarre, absurd position of doing something that will harm the U.K. and Scotland in order to do something else that will harm the U.K. and Scotland — that is the absurdity of the position we find ourselves in,” Sturgeon said.
Brexit would create serious economic implications for the U.K., as they would no longer be able to participate in the EU’s single market, resulting in a £125 billion loss. In addition, leaving the EU could hurt the U.K.’s credibility in the international economy, according to the Economist.
Although Brexit will decrease immigration by ending freedom of movement between the U.K. and the rest of the EU, Sturgeon does not believe ending the freedom of movement policy is a good course of action, especially not for Scotland, whose aging population benefits highly from foreigners who come to Scotland for study and work.
Immigration contributes to cultural diversity and is necessary to support the aging Scottish population, according to Sturgeon.
“Immigration has been good for our culture, our economy, and our society as a whole,” Sturgeon said. “Without it, our population will start to decline, and everyone knows the consequences of that.”
The results of the Brexit referendum were evidence of an economic anxiety that’s better addressed through measures reducing income inequality, Sturgeon said.
“Brexit is the wrong response to inequality, because it’s likely to make people’s living standards worse rather than better,” Sturgeon said. “Scotland’s economic strategy has, for several years now, emphasized so strongly the notion that of inclusive growth: growth which benefits everyone, and growth to which everyone has the opportunity to contribute.”