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UK’s May scotches bid for new independence referendum before Brexit

A Scottish Saltire (C) flies between a Union flag (L) and a European Union (EU) flag in front of the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh.
Oli Scarff | AFP | Getty Images
A Scottish Saltire (C) flies between a Union flag (L) and a European Union (EU) flag in front of the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh.

U.K. prime minister Theresa May has rejected a call from Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to hold a fresh independence referendum before the Brexit process is complete.

"Just now we should be putting all our energies into ensuring that we get that right deal for the U.K. and the right deal for Scotland in our negotiations with the European Union," said the PM, speaking to British broadcaster ITV on Thursday.

"It wouldn't be fair to the people of Scotland because they're being asked to make a crucial decision without the necessary information, without knowing what the future partnership will be or what the alternative of an independent Scotland would look like," she added.

Yet Sturgeon immediately retaliated by demanding that her compatriots had the right to a choice.

"I have a mandate to give people in Scotland a choice and it is simply undemocratic for a party with one MP (member of parliament) in Scotland to stand in the way of that," she told Scottish broadcaster STV, before concluding with the resolute assertion "If the Conservatives continue to hold to that position, they will rue the day."

The Scottish first minister had caught May and her colleagues by surprise in announcing on Tuesday that she would seek to organize a new Scottish referendum between the fall of 2018 and the spring of 2019, the later date roughly coinciding with the anticipated end of the two-year Brexit process should PM May trigger Article 50 to commence the process before the end of this month.

May's careful wording did not eliminate the possibility of an independence referendum outright, just ruled out the proposed timing. The last time the Scots voted on whether to remain as part of the U.K., the majority, 55 percent, opted to within the union.

May's stance was supported by her Conservative party colleagues in Scotland as well as the Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal Democrat parties. The Scottish Greens party, however, rebelled against the notion of a "Westminster government that Scotland did not elect" vetoing a decision of Scotland's elected parliament, claiming that such a high-handed approach would only bolster support for independence.

Meanwhile, former Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond, warned that the Scottish Nationalists could abandon their previous proposals for maintaining a currency union with the U.K., in an interview with U.K. broadsheet the Financial Times on Friday.

This will be one of the key issues in a new referendum, George Buckley, co-head of European economics posited in a note to clients on Friday.

"Given that demands for the referendum have been brought about by Brexit, currency issues are likely to play an important role in any future debate on independence in the event a referendum is called. Oil prices could also be an important factor in deciding the vote given their sizable effect on Scotland's finances," he wrote.

"For the wider U.K., a referendum would inject more political uncertainty which could further undermine sterling, raise inflation, and thereby cause slower growth in consumer and business investment spending."

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