Nicola Sturgeon has said it is “very highly likely” that Scotland would have another independence referendum if the country is taken out of the European Union against its will.
The First Minister warned that if there is a UK-wide vote to leave the EU later this summer while the majority of Scots vote to stay, the battle over Scotland’s constitutional future will “almost certainly” be revived.
A poll at the weekend suggested Scotland would be split down the middle on the issue of independence under such a scenario.
Scots are overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the EU, the Panelbase survey said, unlike the rest of the UK where the rival Leave and Remain campaigns are running neck and neck.
Ms Sturgeon made it clear yesterday that she would be ready to instigate moves for a second referendum in these circumstances.
“If we are taken out of the EU against our will I will want to give the people of Scotland the opportunity to protect our EU membership by looking again at the question of independence,” the First Minister told the BBC.
“Given the centrality of the EU debate to the Scottish independence referendum and that fact that those campaigning for a No vote said we’d get chucked out of Europe if we voted Yes, to be taken out of Europe now against our will I certainly think would lead to many people, including people who voted No in 2014, saying ‘you know what it’s time to think again’.
“I think it’s very highly likely we will have another referendum in those circumstances because I think people would want to protect our membership of the EU.
“But what I’m also saying, perfectly reasonably, is that, notwithstanding my lifelong passionate support for independence, I hope those are not the circumstances that arise because I want people to vote to stay.”
The SNP leader is poised for victory in the Holyrood election next month, most likely with another majority. The SNP manifesto published last week states another independence referendum could be held if there is “clear and sustained” evidence it has become the preferred option of most Scots voters.
Although control over the constitution lies with Westminster, Ms Sturgeon last week warned UK politicians they would have “no right” to block a second vote to leave the UK.
She said yesterday she will “judge the circumstances” about the prospect of a second referendum if the UK votes to leave the EU.
“We’d have to wait and see what the precise outcome of the EU referendum was what the narrowness or otherwise of the result was in Scotland versus the rest of the UK. But I’m saying very clearly I think that would be a democratically unacceptable situation for Scotland to be in.”
She rejected claims that she was simply waiting until the polls suggested there was a majority in favour of independence before calling another referendum.
She said: “What I’m saying is rooted in democracy. There will be another referendum on independence in Scotland if and when there is evidence that a majority of people want there to be independence.”
This would come about when “people have changed their minds from the situation in 2014”, she said.
The SNP has already pledged to mount a summer campaign to win over Scots No voters to the cause of independence, with the Conservatives pledging to mount a “pro-UK” campaign in response.
The Panelbase poll at the weekend suggested that support for independence currently stands at 47 per cent, two points higher than it was at the referendum.
Under a Brexit scenario against Scotland’s wishes, support for independence rises to 50 per cent.
Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, who previously came under fire for indicating she could back independence in a future referendum, yesterday insisted she would always oppose Scotland leaving the UK.
“The economic case for independence has fallen apart,” Ms Dugdale said.
“We were told that this was a once in a lifetime, once in a generation opportunity. We spent two and a half years campaigning on the issue – 85 per cent of the population voted on that. The result should be respected.”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the SNP will not have a mandate to hold another referendum, adding: “To raise Brexit as a supposed trigger doesn’t hold water.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the ongoing debate over a second referendum was “depressing”.