Scottish leader aims to hold new independence vote by 2021

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's push for rerun of 2014 poll amid Brexit uncertainty draws sharp criticism from London.

    Sturgeon told the devolved Scottish parliament the 'case for independence is stronger than ever' [Russell Cheyne/Reuters]
    Sturgeon told the devolved Scottish parliament the 'case for independence is stronger than ever' [Russell Cheyne/Reuters]

    Scotland will hold a vote on independence from the UK by 2021 if the country leaves the European Union, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

    In an address to Scotland's devolved Holyrood Parliament on Wednesday, Sturgeon said she would introduce legislation before the end of the year to set out the rules for a new referendum as part of efforts to avoid "the worst of the damage Brexit will do".

    Nearly 52 percent of Britons - more than 17 million people - voted to leave the EU during a June 2016 poll on membership of the bloc.

    A majority of voters in Scotland - one of the UK's four constituent parts, along with England, Wales and Northern Ireland - said they favoured remaining part of it, however.

    "A choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent, European nation should be offered in the lifetime of this parliament," Sturgeon told legislators in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh.

    "I believe that the case for independence is stronger than ever. I will make that case, but I know others take a different view," she added.

    2014 independence poll

    An independence vote by 2021 would mark Scotland's second poll on membership in the UK within a decade, after 55 percent of Scots rejected exiting the union during a 2014 vote.

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    Sturgeon's Scottish National Party, which runs the Scottish Parliament, has argued a rerun of the ballot is justified as Scotland risks being dragged out of the 28-member EU against its will.

    Opinion polls indicate a majority of voters remain against independence, however.

    Holding a second referendum would also need approval from the UK government, which has repeatedly rejected the idea, saying the Scottish public has already made its decision on the issue.

    The UK government's Scottish secretary accused Sturgeon on Wednesday of pressing for "divisive constitutional change" and acting against the wishes of voters.

    Sturgeon said she believed the government's opposition to another referendum would "prove to be unsustainable", however.

    Brexit deadlock

    Britain is mired in political chaos and it is still unclear whether, when or even if it will leave the EU as Prime Minister Theresa May struggles to win the UK Parliament's backing for her divorce deal.

    The bloc has given the UK until October 31 to ratify a withdrawal agreement or leave without a deal on the terms of its departure.

    British legislators have already rejected May's Brexit deal, brokered after months of arduous negotiations between London and Brussels, three times.

    A non-legally binding document on possible post-Brexit future relations between the UK and the EU has, meanwhile, been defeated twice.

    May has staged cross-party Brexit talks with the main opposition Labour Party in a bid to break the political impasse, but the attempts to forge a compromise have yet to bear fruit.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies