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Scottish leader set to rally troops for referendum

Scottish National Party (SNP) leader, and Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon tours the conference hall of the Scottish National Party (SNP) Spring Conference in Aberdeen, east of Scotland, on March 18, 2017. The Scottish government’s call for a second independence vote has left Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May fighting on two fronts as she prepares to start the process of leaving the European Union later this month. PHOTO: Michal Wachucik / AFP

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will ramp up pressure on the British government to grant a new secession referendum as she rallies her independence-hungry footsoldiers on Saturday.

Sturgeon was to address a conference of her Scottish National Party (SNP) in the northeastern oil city of Aberdeen, with members fired up by her push for a second vote on pulling Scotland out of the United Kingdom.

Sturgeon caught the British government off-guard on Monday when she demanded a new referendum by early 2019 at the latest, just before the UK is expected to leave the European Union.

In response, British Prime Minister Theresa May said “now is not the time” for another referendum, arguing all energies should be devoted to getting a good Brexit deal for the UK as a whole.

“The people of Scotland have a right to take their future into their own hands,” 70-year-old SNP member Tony Martin told AFP outside the Aberdeen conference, wearing a sandwich board with the names of all the political parties and groups supporting independence.

“We don’t want to go down on the Good Ship Brexit,” said Martin, who lives in Gullane near Edinburgh but is originally from Leeds in northern England.

The Scottish parliament is widely expected to back Sturgeon’s call in a vote next week.

“The will of our parliament must and will prevail,” Sturgeon was expected to tell the party faithful later on Saturday, according to extracts from her speech.

“To stand in defiance… would be for the prime minister to shatter beyond repair any notion of the UK as a respectful partnership of equals.”

But she is also letting it be known that she would be “up for continued discussion” with May regarding the timing of a referendum.

In Scotland’s 2014 plebiscite, 55 percent backed staying in the UK. But the SNP says the political landscape has dramatically changed since then.

It argues the vote was based on expectations that the UK would remain in the EU, retaining its unhampered access to the European market and the right of job mobility.

These rights could be swept away if May, following last year’s Brexit referendum, brutally severs ties with the EU, the SNP says.

Scotland voted by 62 percent to stay in the EU in last year’s referendum but the result in Britain as a whole was 52 percent in favour of leaving.

– ‘Break with the past’ –

In a speech to her centre-right Conservative Party on Friday, May accused the SNP of “tunnel vision” and “obsessive nationalism”.

“It is now clear that using Brexit as the pretext to engineer a second independence referendum has been the SNP’s sole objective,” she said.

As the debate heats up, former British prime minister Gordon Brown on Saturday waded in with a compromise solution — giving Scotland sweeping new autonomy, such as the power to set sales tax and to sign international treaties.

Control over agriculture, fisheries and environmental regulation — currently areas under EU control — would be handed to Scotland as Britain leaves the European Union, he said.

Brown, who is from the main opposition Labour Party, said this was would be “a patriotic Scottish way” to avoid both “die-hard conservatism” and “hardline nationalism”.

“Post-Brexit realities make the status quo redundant and require us to break with the past,” he said.

– Record support –

Scotland’s relationship with the EU is at the forefront of the SNP’s renewed call for independence, although EU officials have indicated it would have to reapply to join the bloc rather than inherit Britain’s membership.

But the SNP is also banking on a growing desire for independence.

According to the latest annual ScotCen Scottish Social Attitudes survey released on Wednesday, 46 percent of Scottish voters now back breaking away from the UK — a record high.

“I support independence because I support democracy,” said Paul Wright, 58, an SNP member originally from London, who wore a trilby festooned with badges from a range of independence movements.

“Theresa May needs to wake up. Last time a lot of people voted for the status quo and against the unknown, but this time there is no status quo.”




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