EDINBURGH • Scotland's government yesterday published a draft independence referendum Bill as a fallback plan if it is unable to keep strong ties with the European Union (EU) and win more powers from London as part of Brexit talks.
The Bill would give non-British European Union citizens living in Scotland, who were not allowed to take part in the EU referendum, the right to vote on independence.
Scotland voted by 55 per cent to stay as part of Britain in 2014, but then voted by 62 per cent to remain in the EU in June, sparking a political crisis after Britain as whole voted to leave.
The Bill is broadly the same as the original Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 which enabled a vote the following year.
The opening paragraph of the Bill states: "A referendum is to be held in Scotland on a question about the independence of Scotland. The question is 'Should Scotland be an independent country?'"
It is for formal consultation and sets no date for another vote. "The consultation beginning today will ensure that a referendum Bill, if it is the chosen route, will - like the 2014 referendum - meet the gold standard of democracy and fairness," Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in a statement.
In her foreword, she said: "The United Kingdom government's recent statements on its approach to leaving the EU raise serious concerns for the Scottish government.
"We face unacceptable risks to our democratic, economic and social interests and to the right of the Scottish Parliament to have its say."
She said her government "remains willing to work with the UK government to negotiate a future relationship with Europe".
But she added: "If it becomes clear that it is only through independence that Scotland's interests can be protected, then the people of Scotland must have the ability to reconsider that question, and to do so before the UK leaves the EU."
Polls show Scots would probably still reject secession from the 300-year-old union if a vote were held now and any binding second independence referendum would probably have to be agreed to by the British government in London, which has said it considers the matter settled in 2014.
Prime Minister Theresa May has said she plans to trigger the formal procedure for leaving the EU by the end of March, opening up a two- year negotiating window.
The prospect of another referendum is already causing concern among North Sea oil investors. A report by BMI Research, a subsidiary of global credit rating agency Fitch, said: "A second vote on Scotland sovereignty is the main downside risk to our North Sea production forecast, the chances of which will substantially increase if a 'hard Brexit' is realised."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS