Downing Street 'braced for second Scottish referendum'

Posted On: 
27th February 2017

Downing Street is preparing for Scottish government ministers to call a second independence referendum, it has been claimed.

Nicola Sturgeon in Downing Street
PA Images

Sources have told The Times that Theresa May is mulling over the prospect, with UK government officials fearing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will launch her bid to coincide with the triggering of the Article 50 process next month.

The report outlines the devolution settlement as the government’s “greatest concern” surrounding the Brexit process, with the constitutional crisis in Northern Ireland further adding to Downing Street’s difficulty in presenting a united UK front to Europe.

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While the UK government could reject calls for a new referendum, it faces the position of either giving in to SNP demands, and thereby risking the end of the UK; or rejecting their calls, and thus feeding the nationalist arguments of a domineering London government.

One senior government official warned Mrs May: “Do you really want to take the risk on a 50/50 coin toss?”.

It is believed ministers could make holding any new poll after Brexit a red line, knowing that it would leave an independent Scotland outside the EU initially, while SNP insiders are said to want a vote to take place in the autumn of 2018.

Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly hinted that a fresh vote on separation is “highly likely” following the UK’s decision to leave the EU, while Scots voted overwhelmingly to remain.

Another UK minister told The Times that Nicola Sturgeon had "painted herself in to a corner". They said: “Article 50 is her last hook — if she doesn’t do it then, she won’t really have another chance until the end of the negotiations.”

Polls currently show Scots remain in favour of maintaining the UK however, despite an initial spike in support for independence following the Brexit vote.

Voters backed the union by 55% to 45% when Scotland last went to the polls over the independence question in 2014.

Meanwhile, Theresa May has called on Scottish voters to use May's local council elections to reject independence.

Writing in Holyrood magazine, she said: "We will be looking forward to the local elections in May, when voters across Scotland will have the chance to send a clear message to the SNP that they do not want a second independence referendum, by voting Scottish Conservative and Unionist on 4 May."