(AFP) – Scotland its due to publish a draft bill for a new independence referendum on Thursday, enabling Scots to review their constitutional future as Britain heads for an uncertain Brexit.
Scotland’s semi-autonomous government has said independence would be a fallback plan in case its demands for greater autonomy and strong EU economic ties are not met by Prime Minister Theresa May.
Scotland voted by 55 percent to stay part of Britain in 2014, but then voted by 62 percent to remain in the European Union in June, sparking a political crisis after Britain as whole voted to leave.
Scotland’s nationalist leader Nicola Sturgeon was re-elected as First Minister of the Scottish government in May with nearly 50 percent of the popular vote.
“This government was elected on a specific manifesto pledge that the Scottish Parliament should be able to consider an independence referendum if there was a material change in circumstances, such as Scotland being taken out of the European Union against its will,” Sturgeon said ahead of the publication.
“The country now faces exactly that prospect, including the likelihood of it being a hard Brexit with all the additional damage that will do to Scotland’s economy and jobs,” she said.
Sturgeon will meet British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday, and make a statement to the Scottish parliament in the following days on its plans to safeguard Scotland’s place in Europe.
“If it becomes clear that it is the best or only way of safeguarding Scotland’s interests –- and in line with our manifesto commitment –- parliament must be able to consider the option of an independence referendum,” she said.
The proposal has sparked a backlash from Scotland’s unionist opposition parties.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said Sturgeon “has given up on being a First Minister for all of Scotland in favour of championing her own separatist agenda”.
Labour’s Shadow Scottish Secretary Dave Anderson said: “This is a reckless move by Nicola Sturgeon.
“There will be absolutely no support for a second independence referendum from Labour,” he said.