Nicola Sturgeon starts new route to Scottish independence after setbacks
Nicola Sturgeon (AFP)

Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon says she will set out on a new route towards independence this weekend, a strategy carrying personal political risks as well as aggravating tensions with the British government over Brexit.

Her Scottish National Party (SNP), which runs the devolved government in Edinburgh, will debate at a two-day annual conference how to pursue its aim of independence as Britain struggles to agree terms for leaving the European Union.

Scots opted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum when Britons voted overall to leave, but Sturgeon has made little headway in turning this divergence into stronger support for independence despite the unhappiness it has caused.

“Our conference ... marks the start of a new chapter in Scotland’s road to independence,” she told delegates in the brochure for the conference in the east coast city of Aberdeen, which started on Friday.

Sturgeon, who is Scotland’s first minister, has said she will decide whether to seek a new independence referendum once Britain’s new trading arrangement with the EU has been decided. Negotiations between London and Brussels are progressing slowly.

But a YouGov poll published on Friday in The Times found that only 40 percent of Scots want another referendum.

Polls show support for independence itself is little changed from 2014, when Scots voted “no” by 55 to 45 percent.

Last month, the SNP published an economic report setting out Scotland’s options before and after the independence it wants. It aims to address the weaknesses of the economic arguments for independence proposed last time and thus win new support.

The SNP will take a formal position later in the year on its recommendations, such as that an independent Scotland should initially keep the British pound, after consulting its members.

“With our opponents stuck quibbling grievances of the past, we’ve moved on to a debate about how we fulfill the potential of our country,” Sturgeon added.

Only last year, however, she was forced to back down on a push for a new referendum, despite winning Scottish parliament backing, when Prime Minister Theresa May said “now is not the time”. The Westminster parliament has to approve any independence vote for it to be legally binding.

Shortly afterwards, the SNP lost one third of its seats at Westminster in a snap election, raising questions about Sturgeon’s strategy.

Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary; editing by David Stamp