First Minister takes step toward second Scottish independence vote

13 Mar 17

UNITED KINGDOM

IMPACT – MEDIUM

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced she will give Scottish voters a second chance to vote for independence from the U.K., given the strength of anti-Brexit feeling in Scotland.

Sturgeon’s announcement came as legislation that will allow the U.K. to begin formal Brexit negotiations with the European Union was moving through Parliament.

“The U.K. government has not moved even an inch in pursuit of compromise and agreement,” Sturgeon said. “Our efforts at compromise have instead been met with a brick wall of intransigence.”

Sturgeon has indicated the second independence referendum will be held at some point between Fall 2018 and Spring 2019, once the U.K. is able to set out the terms of its departure from the EU. Its aim would be to allow Scottish voters a choice between “hard Brexit” and the end of free movement within Europe, or Scottish independence and a direct relationship for Scotland with the EU.

Key Points:

  • Scotland voted against independence in 2014, with 55 percent voting to remain part of the U.K. That was before the U.K.’s Brexit referendum in June 2016, in which Scottish voters were in favor of “remain.”
  • The Supreme Court ruled in January that the U.K.’s membership in the EU is a matter for Parliament in Westminster, and not one of the devolved issues on which the Scottish legislature can have a direct influence.
  • Sturgeon’s mandate to protect Scottish interest in maintaining free movement within Europe puts her at odds with the U.K.’s Prime Minister Theresa May, who has made it clear that she will pursue a “hard Brexit” and a departure from Europe’s single market. May called Sturgeon’s announcement  “deeply regrettable,” according to the BBC.
  • Sturgeon will ask the Scottish Parliament next week to request a Section 30 order from the U.K. Parliament. This order would be required before a legally binding referendum could be held. May has not indicated whether she will grant such an order.

BAL Analysis: A second Scottish referendum would be timed before the U.K. officially leaves the EU, but after it becomes clear what type of Brexit agreement could be reached between the U.K. and EU. There seems a good chance a second referendum could have a different result than the first, given Scotland’s preference for remaining part of the EU. The immigration consequences would be significant, though many steps remain before a referendum can be approved and put before voters.

Scottish independence offers a possibility of greater protection for European migrants in Scotland, and the continuation of free movement. It also opens the door for a revised immigration policy for all foreign nationals, as Scotland’s specific immigration needs and demand for workers both in lesser populated areas and in key industries such as the North Sea oil and gas industry have often not been met by the U.K.’s more restrictive immigration policies.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group in the United Kingdom. For additional information, please contact your BAL attorney.

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