EDINBURGH • Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has now got the mandate to ask the British government for an independence referendum but it could take up to six years before she can hold one.
Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell has indicated that the British government will block a Scottish independence vote until Britain's exit from the European Union is done. This means 2020 at the earliest, but referendum negotiations could drag on until 2023.
"We won't be entering into any negotiations at all until the Brexit process is complete. It's not appropriate to have a referendum whilst people do not know what the future relationship between the UK and the EU is and they won't know that until the Brexit process is complete," Mr Mundell told the BBC after Scotland's MPs voted 69 to 59 on Tuesday to request a referendum before Brexit.
This would mean a delay of up to six years, says the Telegraph news site, taking into account the time needed to negotiate an EU trade deal, agree on a Section 30 order to transfer the referendum powers to Holyrood, approve the necessary legislation and stage a campaign.
Westminster reserves the power to call a referendum. However, Holyrood, the seat of the Scottish Parliament, can legislate on reserved areas by asking for a transfer of power under Section 30 of the 1998 Scotland Act.
WAITING FOR MORE CLARITY
We won't be entering into any negotiations at all until the Brexit process is complete.
MR DAVID MUNDELL, Secretary of State for Scotland
Ms Sturgeon is adamant that the vote take place between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, after enough details on Brexit are in place and before the Scots are forced into Brexit, a decision they did not vote for last June. Some 62 per cent of voters in Scotland opted to remain in the EU.
However, even if Scotland votes to leave Britain and become independent, it will not automatically remain a member of the EU. The European Commission has said a separate Scotland would have to make a fresh application, a process that can take many years.
Ms Sturgeon has said that if London refuses to engage in talks on a second referendum, she will return to the Scottish Parliament after the Easter recess "to set out the steps the Scottish government will take to progress the will of Parliament".
No details have emerged on how Holyrood can force Westminster's hand, but the BBC has suggested that the Brexit process itself could hold some bargaining chips. While Scottish MPs would not be able to halt Brexit, Ms Sturgeon could offer to let the Brexit legislation pass unimpeded, in exchange for a referendum some time in 2019.