EDINBURGH, Scotland – Scottish lawmakers voted Tuesday to seek a new referendum on independence, to be held within the next two years — an unwanted headache for the British government as it prepares to push the European Union exit button.
The Edinburgh-based legislature voted 69-59 to back First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s call to ask the British government for an independence vote. Outside, several dozen independence supporters bearing Scottish and EU flags broke into cheers and tears of joy as the news broke.
Sturgeon says Scots must be given the chance to vote on their future before Britain leaves the European Union. British Prime Minister Theresa May plans to launch the U.K’s two-year process of exiting the EU on Wednesday by triggering Article 50 of the bloc’s key treaty.
Britain as a whole voted to leave the bloc in a referendum last year, but Scots voted by a large margin to stay.
“Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands,” Sturgeon told lawmakers before the vote.
Scottish voters rejected independence in a 2014 referendum that Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party called a once-in-a-generation vote. But Sturgeon says Brexit has changed the situation dramatically.
She says there should be a new vote on independence between fall 2018 and spring 2019, when details of Britain’s divorce terms with the bloc are clear.
Sturgeon said that whatever the final terms, Brexit would mean “significant and profound” change for Scotland.
“That change should not be imposed upon us,” she said. “We should have the right to decide the nature of that change.”
May, whose government must approve the referendum for it to be legally binding, says the time is not right. She says all parts of the U.K. — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — must pull together to get the best-possible deal with the EU.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson agreed, saying Tuesday that Scots do not want “the division and rancor of another referendum campaign.”
The Scottish parliament had been due to vote on Sturgeon’s referendum demand last week, but the session was adjourned after Wednesday’s extremist attack in London.
Sturgeon’s referendum call was backed by the governing Scottish nationalists and the Greens, and opposed by the Conservative and Labour parties.
It’s unclear what could break the stalemate between Edinburgh and London. British officials have indicated they would not agree to another independence referendum until Britain’s EU exit is over and done with — a process that could take longer than two years.
“It’s not appropriate to have a referendum whilst people do now know what the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU will be,” David Mundell, the British government’s Scotland minister, said.
Sturgeon told Scottish lawmakers she would seek to negotiate with the British government, “in good faith and with a willingness to compromise.”
Should that fail, she promised to inform the parliament of next steps after its Easter break next month.