Scotland’s nationalist leader has called for a new referendum on independence citing Brexit and the “deeply hostile immigration” policy of Prime Minister Boris Johnson as reasons for a vote to break up the UK.
The nation's citizens in 2014 voted by 55 per cent to 45 per cent against a split in what was described as "a once-in-a-generation" vote but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said her election win north of the border in May represented an “unarguable mandate” for another poll.
Her campaign faces formidable barriers as the British government needs to support any new referendum. Mr Johnson’s government in Westminster shows no inclination to back a second referendum after the tight battle under his predecessor David Cameron.
But Ms Sturgeon called for a new vote in a spirit of “co-operation not confrontation” during a speech to the virtual conference of her Scottish National Party (SNP) on Monday.
The party won a fourth consecutive Scottish government term in May with an increased share of the vote. The SNP was strongly opposed to Brexit, which it said would badly affect its fishing industry, its £16bn in exports to the European Union and would lead to shortages of workers in vital industries because of limits on free movement.
“Judged by any standard of democracy, our victory in May represents an unarguable mandate to implement the manifesto we put before the country, and that is what we intend to do – it is called democracy,” she said.
“And we said that when the Covid crisis has passed, we would give the people of Scotland the choice of independence – and we will.”
Ms Sturgeon told the conference that the UK’s handling of the Afghan crisis had shone a light on Mr Johnson’s broader immigration policy.
She said Britain had a “heavy responsibility” for those seeking refuge from the Taliban and that she hoped to offer an “open, welcoming and diverse” country for refugees.
She highlighted the British government’s new borders bill that attempts to stem the numbers of people seeking to cross the English Channel in boats from the northern coastlines of France and Belgium.
"I know that speaking out about this issue is not always popular but offering asylum to those in dire need is an expression of our common humanity,” she said.
“The UK government's Nationality and Borders Bill fails that basic test of humanity. It could criminalise those seeking sanctuary from oppression simply for claiming asylum.”
No 10 Downing Street has sought to quash suggestions that it would approve an independence vote if polls showed at least 60 per cent of voters north of the border in favour of such another referendum.
Several ministers suggested that crossing such a threshold could lead to a new vote. “We've never set a position on that,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said. “Our view is, as set out, that now would simply not be the time to be dealing with this.”