Scotland’s leader on Sunday told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that a second Scottish independence referendum is “a matter of when, not if", after her party won its fourth straight parliamentary election.
Mr Johnson has invited the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for crisis talks on the union after the regional election results were released.
He said the UK was “best served when we work together” and that the governments should co-operate on plans to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
But Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, told Mr Johnson in a call that while her immediate focus was on steering the country to recovery, a new referendum on its breakup from the rest of the UK was inevitable.
Ms Sturgeon reaffirmed “her intention to ensure that the people of Scotland can choose our own future when the crisis is over, and made clear that the question of a referendum is now a matter of when, not if", her office said.
Earlier, she said she would not rule out legislation paving the way for a vote at the start of next year.
Final results of Thursday’s local elections showed that the SNP won 64 of the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.
Although the party fell a seat short of an overall majority, the Parliament still had a pro-independence majority with the help of eight members of the Scottish Greens.
Ms Sturgeon said the election results proved that a second independence vote for Scotland was “the will of the country” and that any London politician who stood in the way would be “picking a fight with the democratic wishes of the Scottish people".
Mr Johnson has the ultimate authority in whether another referendum on Scotland gaining independence can proceed.
He wrote in Saturday's Daily Telegraph that another referendum on Scotland would be "irresponsible and reckless" as Britain emerges from the pandemic.
Mr Johnson has consistently said the issue was settled in a 2014 referendum, where 55 per cent of Scottish voters favoured staying in the UK.
But supporters of another vote say the situation has changed because of the UK’s Brexit divorce from the EU.
They say Scotland was taken out of the EU against its will. In the 2016 Brexit referendum, 52 per cent of UK voters backed leaving the EU, but 62 per cent of Scots voted to remain.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said on Sunday that the chances of Mr Johnson agreeing to another referendum was “not an issue for the moment” and that the national priority was on recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Gove said the SNP’s failure to secure a majority in the Scottish Parliament was in marked contrast to the party’s heights of power in 2011, when it won a majority with 69 seats.
“It is not the case now, as we see, that the people of Scotland are agitating for a referendum,” he told the BBC.
The Scotland results were the main focus of Thursday’s local elections across Britain.
In Wales, the opposition Labour Party did better than expected, extending its 22 years at the helm of the government despite falling a seat short of a majority.
Labour’s support also held up in some big cities. In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan won a second term.
Other winning Labour mayoral candidates included Steve Rotheram in the Liverpool City Region, Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and Dan Norris in the West of England region, which includes Bristol.
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