Scottish nationalist leader wants new referendum only if enough support
The leader of the separatist Scottish National Party Thursday played down the chance of a new independence referendum anytime soon as her party gathered to build momentum for vital elections in May, AFP reports.
Nicola Sturgeon, who is also Scotland's First Minister, told the party conference in Aberdeen that there should be "respect" for the result of last year's referendum in which Scots voted by 55 percent to 45 percent to remain in the United Kingdom.
Sturgeon added that proposing a new referendum "without strong evidence" that many voters had changed their minds "would be wrong and we wouldn't do it".
But she continued: "If there is strong and consistent evidence that people have changed their minds and that independence has become the choice of a clear majority in this country, then we have no right to rule out a referendum and we won't do that either."
Sturgeon also warned that, if there was a "Yes" vote in a separate referendum due within two years on Britain leaving the European Union, demand for another independence vote could be "unstoppable" in Scotland, which is seen as less eurosceptic than England.
Support for the SNP has risen sharply since the referendum, after which 45-year-old Sturgeon took over from Alex Salmond as party leader.
The party won 56 out of 59 Scottish seats in the House of Commons at May's general election, up from six, and the party's membership has more than quadrupled.
But experts say that alone is not enough for the SNP to be confident of victory in a future independence referendum.
"They need a pretext, something that would have changed. The EU referendum could provide this," said Professor Michael Keating of Aberdeen University.
To wait or not to wait?
Sturgeon described the conference as the "launch pad" for the SNP campaign for elections to Scotland's parliament, which has powers devolved from Westminster over domestic issues, next May.
The SNP aims to increase its majority in the election and cement its position as a party of government while fighting off any potential resurgence of Labour, which used to dominate in Scotland.
Labour is hoping to rebuild its shattered support north of the border under new leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn though Sturgeon branded the party "unreliable" and "unelectable".
A recent YouGov opinion poll gave the SNP 51 percent support for the Scottish Parliament election compared to 21 percent for Labour and 19 percent for the Conservatives.
But Keating said that the SNP was facing "scepticism and criticism" over its policies in fields such as health, education and policing. He predicted that, while they would win the election, they were "vulnerable".
While Sturgeon is keen to focus on the electoral test ahead, many delegates to the conference in the northeastern city, the heart of Scotland's North Sea oil industry, were thinking about independence.
"I hope it's very soon, at least before I go to university in two to three years," said Kayley Davidson, a 17-year-old swimming teacher.
John Reid, a businessman from Crieff in central Scotland, took longer-term view.
"Clearly as SNP members we are pro-independence but we don't want to have another referendum and divide the country again, so things will have to change significantly in order for that to happen," he said.