Everything you need to know about a second Scottish independence referendum in 5 minutes

Nicola Sturgeon outside Downing Street
Nicola Sturgeon outside Downing Street Leon Neal / Getty
  • Downing Street preparing for Scotland to call a second referendum.
  • Scottish government requires permission from Theresa May.
  • May refuses to say whether she would veto one.
  • Polls suggest support for independence has not grown.
  • SNP believes Brexit could be a game-changer.

LONDON — The Times reports today that the UK government is preparing for a second Scottish independence referendum following reports that the Scottish government prepares to call one when the prime minister triggers Article 50 in March.

So, is a second referendum about to happen? And, if so, what would it mean? Here’s our five-minute guide.

I thought Scotland already voted to stay?

Correct.The first Scottish independence referendum was held in 2014 and was won by a margin of 55% to 45% for the No side.

And didn’t the SNP say the referendum would settle matters?

They did. In the run up to the last referendum result the then Scottish First minister Alex Salmond said:”this is a once in a generation opportunity, perhaps even a once in a lifetime, opportunity for Scotland.”

He also suggested that the next referendum probably wouldn’t happen for another 18 years. “If you remember the previous constitutional referendum in Scotland [on devolution], there was one in 1979 and then the next one was in 1997. That’s what I mean by a generation,” he said.

So what’s changed?

Two things. The EU referendum result last year means Scotland now faces being forced out of the EU despite a clear majority of Scots voting to Remain. The second factor is Theresa May’s decision to opt for a “hard Brexit” and leave the single market and the customs union. In their manifesto last May, the SNP promised that “the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum… if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.”

Sturgeon now believes that we have reached such a material change.

So are we going to have another referendum?

Maybe. Maybe not. Sturgeon began laying the groundwork for a second referendum last summer when she started a “listening exercise” with the Scottish people about whether they want another referendum.

What did she hear?

The evidence is mixed.

Recent polls have found that Scots are roughly split 50/50 on whether there should be another referendum within the coming years, with a very slight majority now saying there should. However, there is some evidence that Brexit could have an impact on Scots’ views.When pollsters Panelbase told respondents this month that it would no longer be possible to be part of both part of the UK and the EU, more said they would like to leave the UK than stay in it.

So there’s a majority in favour of leaving the UK now?

No. When asked the simple question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” a majority said they are still in favour of staying. In fact, the polls now are in an almost identical position to where they were before the last independence referendum.

Independence polling

Does Sturgeon have the power to call another referendum?

No. In the consultation for the Scottish government’s draft referendum bill, they acknowledge that “a section 30 order would be sought and agreed” from the UK government.

What’s a section 3o order?

Section 30 orders are a means of transferring powers over to the Scottish government that would normally be reserved by Westminster. The power to call a referendum is one of them.

So would Theresa May hand over those powers?

She refuses to say. Asked on Monday whether Downing Street would veto a second independence referendum, a spokesperson for the prime minister told Business Insider: “the question is not ‘could there be another referendum’ but ‘should there be a referendum’ and the answer to that is no.”

Pushed again on whether a referendum would be vetoed by Downing Street, they replied that “I’m not getting into the hypotheticals.”

Well, that’s as clear as mud. Surely they wouldn’t actually veto it?

It seems fairly unlikely. If the democratically elected government of Scotland were to call such a referendum it would be massively self-defeating for the UK government to oppose it. Not only would they have few legal grounds to do so, such a refusal would risk causing an increase in public support for another referendum and indeed independence itself.

The fact that Downing Street refuse to say they would veto a referendum, either on or off the record, suggests that they do not plan to do so. What they could do is agree to one, but only under the condition that it was held after Britain has left the EU.

Nicola Sturgeon
First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon, votes with her husband Peter Murrell on May 7, 2015 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

But will Scotland actually call one?

It remains unclear. Sturgeon initially called for a “compromise” option whereby a second referendum could be avoided if Britain remained in the Single Market.

However, has since said that the UK government’s decision to opt for a “hard Brexit” has made a second referendum “more likely.” She has yet to be explicit about her plans to call one.

Would Scotland vote to leave this time around?

At the moment the polling remains largely unchanged from when the last referendum was called. The hopes among some in the SNP that the Brexit vote would cause a surge in support for independence have not yet been realised. That may change, of course, once negotiations with the EU begin and the realities of Brexit become clear.

However, the same economic arguments that largely won the independence referendum for the No side would still apply and indeed have arguably been heightened by Brexit. The latest statistics show that the value of trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK is worth four times that of the value of trade between Scotland and the rest of the EU. Far from propelling Scotland out of the UK, Brexit could actually reinforce existing fears of Scots about leaving the safety of the Union.

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