Proposed second Scottish independence referendum

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The Scottish Government has proposed holding a second referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom (UK). A referendum on Scottish independence was held in 2014, with 55% voting against the proposal. After this, the UK voted to leave the European Union (EU) in a 2016 referendum. One of the reasons cited by those opposed to Scottish independence during the 2014 campaign was that it would endanger Scotland being part of the EU.

The SNP majority Scottish Government stated in its 2013 white paper on independence that the 2014 referendum would be a "once in a generation opportunity to follow a different path, and choose a new and better direction for our nation".[1] Following the election of a Conservative UK government in 2015, a referendum on UK membership of the EU was scheduled for June 2016. The SNP stated in its manifesto for the May 2016 Scottish Parliament election that a second independence referendum should be held if there was a material change of circumstances, such as the UK leaving the EU.

The SNP formed a minority government in 2016 with the Scottish Parliament having a pro-independence majority with the Scottish Greens. The "leave" side won the EU referendum with 52% of the vote across the UK. In Scotland, 62% of votes were to "remain" in the EU, with a majority of voters in every local authority area voting "remain".

In March 2017 First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gained the approval of the Scottish Parliament to request a Section 30 order to enable a second independence referendum "when the shape of the UK's Brexit deal will become clear", within 18–24 months.[2][3] Earlier the same month, the UK Prime Minister Theresa May stated that "now is not the time" to discuss another referendum, because the focus should be on "working together, not pulling apart" for Brexit negotiations.[4] The Brexit process also met a 10 month delay due to lack of ratification of the exit deal by the House of Commons.[5]

In December 2019, Sturgeon sent an official request to hold an independence referendum to May's successor as prime minister, Boris Johnson. Sturgeon advocated holding a referendum in 2020 and published a document presenting the democratic case for a referendum alongside proposed amendments to the Scotland Act 1998, including to give the Scottish parliament permanent powers to hold referendums and for UK law to make provisions for self-determination.[6][7][8] In January 2020, the request was rejected by the UK government, which pointed out that Sturgeon had promised that the 2014 referendum would not be repeated for at least a generation, and that both the Scottish and UK governments had pledged to abide by its outcome.


2014 Scottish independence referendum[edit]

Results by council area of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum:

The referendum on Scottish independence held on 18 September 2014 saw Scotland vote to remain part of the United Kingdom (UK), with 55% voting against the proposal for Scotland to become an independent country and 45% voting in favour. Uncertainty over Scotland's European Union (EU) membership was a topic in the run-up to the referendum vote.[9] The British government and some mainstream political parties argued that remaining in the UK was the only way for Scotland to remain part of the EU.[10][11]

Other issues, such as the economy, played a large part in the debate. Financial groups, such as the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group, were reported to be considering moving their registered offices to London, as a result of a European law stating that banks should have their head offices in the same member state as its registered office, as well as implying that these offices should be in the location where they conduct most of their activity – which would be the remainder of the United Kingdom in the event of Scottish independence.[12][13]

The Scottish Government's official publication on the independence referendum stated that "It is the view of the current Scottish Government that a referendum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity",[14] a point reiterated a few days before the vote by the SNP's then-leader, Alex Salmond, noting the eighteen-year gap between the devolution referenda held in 1979 and in 1997 as an example of the generational opportunity.[15] Three months later, Salmond reversed the position, highlighting the UK's EU referendum as a factor.[16] The UK government had also portrayed the independence referendum as once-in-a-generation.[17]

Though the proposal for Scotland to become an independent country was voted down in 2014, the referendum resulted in the Scottish Parliament gaining additional powers through the Scotland Act 2016, which increased the devolved powers in areas such as taxation and some aspects of welfare provision.[18]

United Kingdom general election, 2015[edit]

Results of the 2015 United Kingdom general election

The 2015 UK general election was held on 7 May almost eight months after the independence referendum was held. In their manifesto, the SNP said the following in response to the Conservatives' manifesto pledge promising a referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017 if elected:[19]

The European Union is far from perfect, however, we believe that it is overwhelmingly in Scotland’s interests for us to remain a member, engaging with the institutions as fully as we can, and to argue for reform from within. We will oppose UK withdrawal from the EU and will propose that, in any future referendum, there should be a double majority requirement. Each of the four constituent nations of the UK would have to vote for withdrawal before the UK as a whole could leave the European Union.

The SNP went on to win 56 of the 59 Scottish seats that were contested in an unprecedented landslide winning 50% of the national vote and left just three unionist MPs in Scotland; Labour saw their worst result in Scotland since 1918, the Liberal Democrats fell to their lowest level since 1970 and the Conservatives received their lowest vote share in Scotland since 1865.

Across the United Kingdom, the Conservatives led by David Cameron won an unexpected overall majority, their first since 1992 and following their victory passed the European Union Referendum Act 2015 which legislated for the holding of a national UK-wide referendum on EU membership which would be held following the conclusion of a renegotiation of the UK's membership to the EU.

Scottish Parliament election, 2016[edit]

Results of the 2016 Scottish Parliament election

The elections to the Scottish Parliament took place on 5 May 2016, seven weeks before the holding of the EU Referendum. In their manifesto for the 2016 Scottish elections, the SNP stipulated conditions under which they would seek a second independence referendum:[20]

We believe that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people – or 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.

The SNP were re-elected in the 2016 election, winning 63 seats in the 129-seat chamber, although the result meant that they no longer held an overall majority.[21] The pro-independence Scottish Green Party won 6 seats,[21] meaning that pro-independence MSPs maintained a majority.[22]

The Green manifesto stipulated that a second referendum should be held if there was public demand for one, rather than as a result of "calculations of party political advantage". The party specified that their preferred method of showing support for a referendum was via a public petition, although their manifesto didn't clarify how many signatories there would have to be to receive their support:[23]

Citizens should be able to play a direct role in the legislative process: on presenting a petition signed by an appropriate number of voters, citizens should be able to trigger a vote on important issues of devolved responsibility. As we proposed on the first anniversary of the Independence Referendum, this is the Scottish Greens’ preferred way of deciding to hold a second referendum on Independence. If a new referendum is to happen, it should come about by the will of the people, and not be driven by calculations of party political advantage. In such a referendum the Scottish Greens will campaign for independence.

United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016[edit]

Every council area in Scotland returned majority votes in favour of remaining in the EU, contrasting with other parts of the UK, who ultimately carried the overall UK leave vote.

In the EU membership referendum held on 23 June 2016, all thirty-two council areas in Scotland voted by a majority for the UK to remain a member of the EU. 62% of Scottish voters voted to remain a member of the EU, with 38% voting to leave. However, 52% of voters across the whole UK voted to leave the European Union, with 48% voting to remain; majorities in England and Wales were in favour of leaving the EU, with majorities in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar to remain a member of the EU.[24]

Before the referendum, leading figures with a range of opinions regarding Scottish independence suggested that in the event the UK as a whole voted to leave the EU but Scotland as a whole voted to remain, a second independence referendum might be precipitated.[25][26] Former Labour Scottish First Minister Henry McLeish asserted that he would support Scottish independence under such circumstances.[27]

In 2013, Scotland exported around three and a half times more to the rest of the UK than to the rest of the EU,[28] while in 2015, that had increased to around four times more to the rest of the UK than to the rest of the EU.[29] The pro-union organisation Scotland in Union has suggested that an independent Scotland within the EU would face trade barriers with a post-Brexit UK and face additional costs for re-entry to the EU.[28]

A report for the European Parliament regarding the impact on the United Kingdom's exit from the EU on devolution suggested that "there now seems to be a consensus that, were Scotland to become independent by legal means, it could join the [European] Union", something which had been questioned before the 2014 referendum.[30]

In response to the result, on 24 June 2016, the Scottish Government said officials would begin planning for a second referendum on independence.[31][32] Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was "clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union" and that Scotland had "spoken decisively" with a "strong, unequivocal" vote to remain in the European Union.[33] Sturgeon said it was "democratically unacceptable" that Scotland could be taken out of the EU "against its will".[31][34]

In February 2017, the Scottish Parliament voted 90 to 34 to oppose the UK leaving the EU and to oppose invoking Article 50 in a non-binding vote.[35]

United Kingdom general election, 2017[edit]

Results of the 2017 United Kingdom general election in Scotland.

The 2017 UK general election returned a hung parliament resulting in Theresa May's Conservatives returning as a minority government through a pact with the Democratic Unionist Party.

The SNP remained as the third-largest party in the UK House of Commons with its representation reduced to 35 of the total 59 Scottish MPs. The SNP had 21 fewer seats than they won in the 2015 general election and its popular vote in Scotland reduced from 50% in 2015 to 37% in 2017 with a lower voter turnout. The Conservatives, who oppose independence, saw their best election in Scotland since 1983, winning 29% of the vote and increasing their seat total to thirteen, compared to one in the previous parliament.

Sturgeon stated: "Undoubtedly the issue of an independence referendum was a factor in this election result, but I think there were other factors in this election result as well".[36] Opposition to a second referendum is one of the issues that former SNP MP Angus Robertson and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson have attributed to reduced support for the SNP.[37]

The SNP lost seats that voted for independence. Glasgow North East was gained by Labour despite consisting mostly of the two Scottish Parliamentary constituencies with the largest support for independence within the Glasgow City council areaGlasgow Maryhill and Springburn and Glasgow Provan.[38]

A Survation poll the day prior to the election found that 71% of 2014 independence voters planned to vote for the SNP,[39] significantly lower than the 87% of 'Yes' voters who were planning to vote SNP at a comparable time in 2015.[40] A large amount of support from independence voters had moved to the Labour Party, with the party increasing their vote share among independence supporters from 6% to 21%.[39][40] The Conservatives had a smaller rise among independence supporters, gaining 7% of their votes in 2017, compared to 2% in 2015.[39][40]

A realignment also occurred among those who opposed independence in the 2014 referendum. In 2015, Labour had the highest vote share among unionist voters at 42%.[40] This dropped to 33% in 2017.[39] The Conservatives became the largest anti-independence party increasing their votes from 27% to 46% of unionist voters.[39][40] Elsewhere, 11% backed the SNP and the Liberal Democrats in 2017, compared to 15% and 10% respectively in 2015.[39][40]

United Kingdom general election, 2019[edit]

Results of the 2019 UK general election in Scotland

The 2019 UK general election resulted in a majority parliament for the Conservatives lead by Boris Johnson. The SNP held the position of third largest party in the House of Commons, gaining 13 seats from the previous election to a total of 48. The SNP garnered 45% of the popular vote in Scotland, an 8% gain from the 2017 UK general election.[41]

Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP, said: "It couldn't really be any clearer from the results of this election that Scotland doesn't want a Boris Johnson government, it doesn't want to leave the European Union, and it wants to be able to determine its own future, whatever that future turns out to be."[42] This was in response to the Scottish Conservatives campaign, that, according to Sturgeon, focused solely on opposing a second referendum on Scottish Independence.[42] Given Johnson's opposition to a second referendum, Sturgeon stated the Scottish Government could pursue a legal course of action to try to give the Scottish Parliament the power to call a referendum.[41][43]


While the Scottish Parliament could potentially hold an advisory referendum on the question of independence without the approval of the UK government, a binding referendum would require a section 30 order from the UK government, or an amendment to the Scotland Act 1998 by the UK Parliament.[44][45]

Referendums Act[edit]

In May 2019, the Scottish Government introduced the Referendums (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament as part of a three-tiered approach to constitutional change. This Bill, when passed, will form the statutory basis for all future referenda being held under Scots Law under the instruction of the Scottish Government.[46] This legislation would form the legal basis of a further independence referendum. The current Scottish Government intends to seek a Section 30 order or an amendment to the Scotland Act 1998 to ensure that the result of a future referendum can be indisputably binding.

The Bill was passed at Stage 3 by the Scottish Parliament on 19 December 2019 and has been submitted for royal assent.[47]


The constitution is a 'reserved' matter of the United Kingdom government under the Scotland Act 1998. For a future referendum on Scottish independence to have a binding outcome, it would need to receive the consent of the British Government through a Section 30 order.[48][49][50] The Scottish Parliament could approve a "consultative referendum" on the subject of independence, which would enable the referendum to take place without the approval of the British Parliament.[51] Under the Sewel Convention, the Scottish Government is able to issue a "legislative consent motion," which would signal to the United Kingdom Parliament that Scottish Government has deemed it necessary to alter a law enacted by the UK Government or to change the scope of the devolved government's powers in some manner.[52]



Scottish Secretary David Mundell stated, on 26 June 2016, that "if the people of Scotland ultimately determine that they want to have another [independence] referendum there will be one", and added "Could there be another referendum? The answer to that question is yes. Should there be another referendum? I believe the answer to that question is no."[53]

First Minister Sturgeon delivering her 13 March announcement

On 13 October 2016, Sturgeon announced that an Independence Referendum Bill will be published for consultation the following week.[54]


On 13 March 2017, Sturgeon announced she would seek Scottish Parliament approval to negotiate with the UK Government for a Section 30 order enabling a legally binding second independence referendum.[2]

On 16 March 2017, ahead of the scheduled debate, Theresa May responded by broadcasting a message where she said that "now is not the time" for a second referendum on Scottish independence, as it would be unclear what the people of Scotland would be voting for.[4] Ruth Davidson later appeared at a press conference in Edinburgh and stated her position that "we will maintain that it should not take place when there is no clear public and political consent for it to happen".[4]

The debate began on 22 March 2017, but following that day's Westminster terrorist attack, it was suspended before a vote could take place. The vote was subsequently rescheduled for 28 March, a day before Theresa May was scheduled to trigger Article 50.[55]

On 28 March 2017, the Scottish Parliament voted 69–59 on Motion S5M-04710, in favour of holding a second referendum on Scottish independence.[56][57] Prior to the passage of the motion, a Green Party amendment was passed, by the same margin, that seeks to enable 16 and 17 year-olds and EU citizens the opportunity to vote in a referendum.[58]

The full-motion, with the Green Party amendment in italics:

That the Parliament acknowledges the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs and therefore mandates the Scottish Government to take forward discussions with the UK Government on the details of an order under section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 to ensure that the Scottish Parliament can legislate for a referendum to be held that will give the people of Scotland a choice over the future direction and governance of their country at a time, and with a question and franchise, determined by the Scottish Parliament, which would most appropriately be between the autumn of 2018, when there is clarity over the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, and around the point at which the UK leaves the EU in spring 2019; believes that this gives people in Scotland a choice at a time when there is both the most information and most opportunity to act; further believes that 16 and 17-year-olds and EU citizens, who were excluded from the EU referendum, should be entitled to vote, and considers that this referendum is necessary given the Prime Minister’s decision to negotiate a hard exit from the EU, including leaving the single market, which conflicts with assurances given by the UK Government and prominent Leave campaigners, and which takes no account of the overwhelming Remain vote in Scotland.

Following the 2017 UK general election, Sturgeon announced that the Scottish Government would postpone legislation on the proposed second referendum on Scottish independence until at least autumn 2018, when it was believed that the outcome of Brexit negotiations would become clearer.[59]


On 25 May 2018, the Scottish National Party published its "Growth Commission" report, which detailed the economics of an independent Scotland when maintaining close alignment to British fiscal policy. The report noted that it would take £450 million to set up an independent state, with an initial budget deficit of around 6% of GDP. The report, additionally, suggested that an independent Scotland would negotiate a share of the UK national debt, while continuing to use the Pound Sterling as currency for at least a decade. Scotland would only consider an independent currency, once certain economic goals had been met. Despite not having a separate currency on independence, the report suggested that Scotland would set up a central bank to act as a lender of last resort. According to the Growth Commission, Scotland would seek an open migration policy to allow for its population to grow.[60]

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson responded to the report by saying: "For me, the most important issue is making sure our children get a good education. The first minister used to claim that that was her priority too—how times have changed. It's hard to see how dragging Scotland back down the rabbit hole of a debate on independence is going to improve our schools." Richard Leonard, Scottish Labour's leader, stated that the report, "will exasperate millions of people around the country who just want the first minister focused on public services".[61]


In March 2019, the SNP conference adopted an amendment version of the Growth Commission as party policy on the economics of independence. This amended version established that it is now SNP policy for an independent Scotland to create a new currency at the earliest feasible point of independence to enable fiscal sovereignty, with Pound Sterling being a transitional currency for Scotland.[62] First Minister Sturgeon also announced the establishment of a 'Social Justice Commission' to develop the social argument for independence to complement the SNP's new economic policy.[63]

In April 2019, Sturgeon proposed holding a second referendum before the end of the Scottish Parliamentary session in May 2021.[64] Legislation has been introduced in the form of the 'Referendums (Scotland) Bill' to govern future referenda, on any subject, in Scotland held by the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government is working on a three-pronged approach to constitutional change:

  • Firstly, a referendum on independence through the Referendums (Scotland) Bill is a matter of intent of the government to allow Scotland a say on independence.
  • Secondly, cross-party talks are to be held to enable any areas of agreement on changes to devolution to be explored.
  • Lastly, the Scottish Government is establishing the Citizens' Assembly of Scotland to discuss the most prominent issues faced by contemporary Scottish governance.[65]

The civic campaign group Voices for Scotland launched in April 2019 to secure a pro-independence majority in Scotland through societal engagement. This group was established by the Scottish Independence Convention which is made up of cross-party and grassroots organisations.[66]

On the same day as the passing of the Referendums (Scotland) Act 2019, Nicola Sturgeon officially published the Scottish Government's request to Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the transfer of legal authority to hold a referendum on independence. This request set out the constitutional history of Scotland's place in the United Kingdom and that the Scottish Government would deem either a Section 30 order or an amendment to the Scotland Act as a satisfactory means of transferring the power over independence referendums.[67] Sturgeon's intention is for the referendum to be held in 2020.[8]


Sturgeon's 2019 request was rejected by the UK government in January 2020.[68] In his official response, Johnson wrote that Sturgeon and Salmond had promised that the 2014 referendum would be a "once in a generation" vote, that both the Scottish and UK governments had pledged to implement the outcome of that vote, and that his government therefore "cannot agree to any request for a transfer of power that would lead to further independence referendums".[68]


Scotland's future relations with the EU and EEA[edit]

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The results of the European Union membership referendum by voting areas. Scotland, Northern Ireland, London, and Gibraltar voted in majority to remain in the European Union, contrasting with Wales and the rest of England, who ultimately carried the result of leaving.

Following the EU referendum result, Sturgeon said she would communicate to all EU member states that Scotland had voted to stay in the EU.[69] An emergency Scottish cabinet meeting on 25 June 2016 agreed that the Scottish Government would seek to enter negotiations with the EU and its member states, to explore "options to protect Scotland's place in the EU".[70][71] On 28 June 2016, Sturgeon said that "independence [...] is not my starting point in these discussions. My starting point is to protect our relationship with the EU."[72]

After a summit of EU leaders on 29 June 2016, Sturgeon held meetings with some EU officials.[73] She raised the possibility of parts of the UK remaining within the EU, or for these areas to have special arrangements with the EU, after the UK leaves.[73] David Edward, a former justice of the European Court of Justice, suggested that these arrangements would relate to policy areas that have been devolved to Scotland.[73]

Sturgeon also met European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who commented that "I will listen carefully to what the first minister will tell me... but we don't have the intention, neither Donald Tusk nor myself, to interfere in an inner British process that is not our duty and this is not our job."[74] Manfred Weber, leader of the European People's Party Group, and Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group, indicated that they were supportive of Scotland remaining an EU member.[75][76][77] Gunther Krichbaum, head of the Bundestag's Committee for EU Affairs, made supportive comments about Scotland becoming a member state of the EU.[78]

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said: "[be] very clear Scotland does not have the competence to negotiate with the European Union".[74] He also stated his opposition to the EU negotiating with "anyone other than the government of United Kingdom" and that "if the United Kingdom leaves... Scotland leaves".[74] Similarly, the French President, François Hollande, stated: "The negotiations will be conducted with the United Kingdom, not with a part of the United Kingdom".[74]

The Scottish European and External Affairs Committee held an evidence session on 30 June 2016, asking a panel of four experts (Dr Kirsty Hughes of Friends of Europe, Prof Sionaidh Douglas-Scott of the Queen Mary School of Law at the University of London, Sir David Edward and Prof Drew Scott of the University of Edinburgh) what they felt was the best way to secure the Scottish-EU relationship.[79] Hughes stated that "the simplest and most obvious way would be to be an independent state and transition in and stay in the EU", Douglas-Scott said that "Legally there are precedents. [...] But there were also political difficulties", referring to Catalonia in member state Spain. Edward believed "Scotland makes quite a good fit with Iceland and Norway", referring to the European Economic Area and the European Free Trade Association, while Scott hinted that Scotland could be a successor state, meaning the rest of the UK would leave but Scotland would retain its seat.[79]

The new UK Prime Minister Theresa May met with Sturgeon on 15 July 2016 in Edinburgh, when May stated that she was "willing to listen to options" for Scotland,[80] although she later stated that some options were "impracticable".[81] Sturgeon then publicly stated that she had five tests for any future arrangements.[82] The IPPR thinktank stated that Scottish unionists needed to provide options for Scotland, if they wished to retain the British union.[81] The Scottish Labour Party published an 'Action Plan' in July 2016, focusing on the economy.[83]

In their manifestos for the 2017 German federal election, the Free Democrats and the Greens stated that EU membership would remain an option for Scotland and Northern Ireland (as well as for the rest of the UK), if they left the UK.[84]

In April 2017, a report for the European Parliament Committee on Constitutional Affairs was published to look at the implications on the UK's withdrawal from the European Union on Scotland, Wales and Gibraltar and their future relations with the EU. The report suggested that Scotland would be unlikely to be rejected as a member of the EU, should it become independent, noting that "not since de Gaulle’s veto on UK membership in the 1960s has a democratic country respecting the rule of law been refused admission". However, it affirmed that Scotland's independence would have to be accepted by the United Kingdom for Scotland to obtain EU membership: "There now seems to be a consensus that, were Scotland to become independent by legal means, it could join the [European] Union".[85]

Possible EFTA membership[edit]

In November 2016, Sturgeon confirmed to members of the Scottish Parliament that the Scottish Government was considering joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA), based on the model of Norway and some other countries, to "protect [Scotland's] place in the single market" of Europe even if the United Kingdom as a whole does leave in a "hard Brexit".[86] The SNP's 2017 General Election manifesto stated that "the Scottish Government [led by the SNP, had] published proposals that would keep Scotland in the Single Market, even as we left the EU."[87] Christophe Hillion, a Professor of European Law at the University of Oslo who was invited to deliver an expert opinion to the Scottish Parliament, said that while there is scepticism about UK accession to EFTA in Norway, Scotland is viewed much more positively, and that the EFTA member states would likely welcome an independent Scotland as a member.[88]

Legislative consent in disapplying EU law[edit]

The Scotland Act 1998 empowers the Scottish Parliament to legislate in policy areas devolved to Scotland, but one of its clauses obliges the Scottish Parliament to ensure its legislation is compatible with European law.[89][90] For the UK to completely leave the EU, it would need to remove that obligation.[90] If the UK Parliament wishes to legislate on policy areas devolved to Scotland, or if it wishes to amend the powers devolved to Scotland, by convention it needs the Scottish Parliament to pass a "legislative consent motion".[89][90] On 26 June 2016, Sturgeon said she would ask the Scottish Parliament to withhold consent if she thought it was not in Scotland's interests.[91] Giving evidence to a House of Lords committee before the EU referendum, David Edward suggested the consent of the Scottish Parliament would be needed for this legislation.[89]

Media reports suggested this might give the Scottish Parliament a veto over UK withdrawal from the EU,[89][92][93] but under the Scotland Act 1998 the UK Parliament could ultimately override the "veto" as it is based only on parliamentary convention.[89][90] Alternatively, the UK Parliament could choose to disregard the obligation for the Scottish Parliament to observe EU law.[90] The then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, said that the UK Government would consult with the devolved governments and noted that it was for the UK Parliament to decide whether to leave the EU by repealing the European Communities Act 1972.[94] In its ruling in the case brought by Gina Miller regarding the UK Government's authority to invoke Article 50, the UK Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the devolved governments did not have a veto as the convention was unenforceable in law.[95] Speaking later that week the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, said that the bill needed to invoke Article 50 would not require consent, but also said he was working under the assumption that the "Great Repeal Bill" needed to remove European legislation from UK statutes would require co-operation from the devolved bodies.[96]

Responses to the prospect of a referendum[edit]

See also, for comparison 2014 Scottish independence referendum#Responses

Responses by politicians to the possibility of a second referendum have been pro-independence (and pro-referendum), pro-union, or pro-federalism.

In support of a referendum[edit]

Former SNP First Minister Alex Salmond in June 2016 said the Brexit vote was a "significant and material change" in Scotland's position within the United Kingdom, and that he was certain the Scottish National Party would implement its manifesto on holding a second referendum.[97][98]

Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie, on 13 March 2017 welcomed the confirmation from the First Minister that she is seeking a Section 30 Order from the UK Government to give the Scottish Parliament temporary power to call a referendum on independence.[99]

Scottish Socialist Party spokesman Colin Fox said the SSP would "work as hard as anyone to deliver a Yes vote for independence", but warned that making Scotland's EU membership a central and “overarching” issue of the debate would be “a risky strategy” and said it ran the risk of side-lining economic and social challenges facing Scots.[100][101]

A few days before the 2017 General Election, Sturgeon was asked about the prospect of a third referendum if the proposed second one did not result in a vote in favour of independence.[102] She refused to rule out a third referendum within a few years, saying that, "I don't think it's right for any politician to dictate to a country what its future should be. I think that should be a choice for the people of Scotland."[102]

In late 2018, the Scottish Independence Convention set out plans to create a cross-party, non-partisan campaign for independence. This campaign will focus on why independence is required for Scotland and will entail a fact checker and a rebuttal service.[103][104]

Opposed to a referendum[edit]

British party leaders[edit]

Then Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron stated in June 2016 that "There was a legal, fair and decisive referendum two years ago [...] the last thing Scotland needs now is another divisive referendum" and that the "best possible deal for the United Kingdom will also be the best possible deal for Scotland".[105][106][107]

A spokesperson speaking on behalf of Cameron's successor as (now former) Conservative Party Leader and (former) Prime Minister, Theresa May, said in October 2016 "The prime minister and the government does not believe that there is a mandate for [a second referendum]. There was one only two years ago. There was an extremely high turnout and there was a resounding result in favour of Scotland remaining in the UK."[108]

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said in March 2017 that a referendum would be "absolutely fine" and that "I don't think it's the job of Westminster or the Labour Party to prevent people holding referenda." However, a spokesman for Corbyn later said: "Labour continues to oppose a further referendum in the Scottish Parliament and would campaign against independence if one were held."[109]

Then Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron in March 2017, said: “Scottish Liberal Democrats stood for election last year on a platform to oppose a new independence referendum. That is what we will do."[110]

In November 2019 during the lead up to the UK general election, leader of the Conservatives and Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that a conservative government would not permit a second independence referendum, vowing to "protect our magnificent union".[111]

Scottish party leaders[edit]

In June 2016 then Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson expressed her opposition to a second Scottish referendum, saying that the country needed stability.[71][112] She then said in March 2017 that "The SNP is ... acting against the majority wishes of the people of Scotland" by proposing a second referendum.[113] Davidson later resigned as leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

Then Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said in July 2016 that it would be "categorically wrong" for the UK Government to block a second independence referendum if the people want it.[114] In February 2017, she said that "Our country still bears the scars of the last one [referendum], and no one wants to go through that again any time soon ... That's why Labour will never support one [a second referendum] in the Scottish Parliament". She also supports a federal Britain.[115][116] After the SNP lost 21 seats in the 2017 general election Kezia Dugdale stated that this was the "final nail in the coffin" for a proposed second referendum. Dugdale later resigned as leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie said in March 2017, "We stood on a platform last May where we said we were against independence and against another independence referendum",[117] he also said, "No independence referendum, either at Westminster or in the Scottish Parliament – that's the view of the Liberal Democrats."[118]

Opinion polling[edit]

Results of polls to 16 August 2019

In nearly every opinion poll following the EU membership referendum, participants are asked to respond to the question or subtle variation of:

If the referendum was held again tomorrow, how would you vote in response to the question: Should Scotland be an independent country?

utilising the final six words (in italics) as in the 2014 referendum question. A response of "Yes" therefore is for Scottish independence and response of "No" for remaining in the United Kingdom.

Polls vary in how weightings are applied (methods of which are not described by the polling organisations) and in which participants are excluded from the final data (based on how likely they are to vote). There is an inherent ± 3% margin of error based on a sample size of ~1,000.



Includes 16 and 17 year-olds? Polling organisation/client Sample size Yes No Undecided Lead Notes
12 Dec 2019 2019 United Kingdom general election
10–11 Dec 2019 Telephone Survation/The Courier 1,012 46% 47% 7% 1%
3–6 Dec 2019 Online Yes Panelbase/Sunday Times 1,020 44% 50% 6% 6%
3–6 Dec 2019 Online Yes YouGov/The Times 1,008 38% 48% 9% 10%
19–25 Nov 2019 Telephone Yes Ipsos MORI/STV 1,046 48% 48% 4% Tied
20–22 Nov 2019 Online Yes Panelbase/Sunday Times 1,009 45% 47% 7% 2%
9–11 Oct 2019 Online Yes Panelbase/Sunday Times 1,003 46% 47% 7% 1%
30 Sep–9 Oct 2019 Online Yes Survation/Progress Scotland 2,032 40% 51% 8% 11% Non-standard question[notes 1]
12–16 Sep 2019 Online Yes Survation/Scotland in Union 1,003 38% 55% 9% 17% Non-standard question[notes 2]
30 Aug–3 Sep 2019 Online Yes YouGov/The Times 1,059 43% 44% 9% 1%
29 Aug 2019 Ruth Davidson resigns as leader of the Scottish Conservatives
30 Jul–2 Aug 2019 Online No Lord Ashcroft 1,019 46% 43% 11% 3% Lord Ashcroft is not a British Polling Council member
24 Jul 2019 Boris Johnson becomes the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
14–17 May 2019 Online Yes Panelbase/Sunday Times 1,021 45% 49% 6% 4%
24–26 Apr 2019 Online Yes YouGov/The Times 1,029 44% 45% 7% 1%
18-23 Apr 2019 Online Yes Survation/Scotland in Union 1,012 36% 56% 7% 20% Non-standard question[notes 2]
16–23 Apr 2019 Online Yes Panelbase/Sunday Times 1,018 44% 49% 7% 5%
15–21 Mar 2019 Online Yes Survation/Progress Scotland 2,041 35% 58% 8% 23% Non-standard question[notes 3]
30 Nov–5 Dec 2018 Online Yes Panelbase/Sunday Times 1,028 45% 51% 4% 6%
9–13 Nov 2018 Online Yes Survation/Scotland in Union 1,013 36% 55% 9% 19% Non-standard question[notes 2]
2–7 Nov 2018 Online Yes Panelbase/Constitutional Commission 1,050 43% 52% 5% 9%
18–21 Oct 2018 Online Yes Survation/Daily Record 1,017 41% 51% 7% 10%
3–5 Oct 2018 Telephone Yes Survation/Scottish National Party 1,013 41% 49% 8% 8%
28 Sep–4 Oct 2018 Online Yes Panelbase/Sunday Times 1,024 41% 52% 7% 11%
28 Sep–2 Oct 2018 Online Yes Survation/Sunday Post 1,036 43% 49% 6% 6%
24–29 Aug 2018 Online Yes Deltapoll/OFOC & Best for Britain 1,022 45% 47% 8% 2% Non-standard question[notes 4]
5–10 Jul 2018 Online No Survation/Daily Record 1,002 41% 47% 12% 6%
8–13 Jun 2018 Online Yes Panelbase/Sunday Times 1,021 41% 53% 6% 12%
1–5 Jun 2018 Online Yes YouGov/The Times 1,075 41% 50% 6% 9%
23–28 Mar 2018 Online Yes Panelbase/Sunday Times 1,037 41% 53% 6% 12%
5–11 Mar 2018 Telephone Yes Ipsos Mori/STV 1,050 46% 50% 4% 4%
24–28 Jan 2018 Online Yes Survation/Daily Record 1,029 42% 50% 8% 8%
12–16 Jan 2018 Online No YouGov/The Times 1,002 37% 50% 10% 13%
1–5 Dec 2017 Online Yes Survation/The Sunday Post 1,006 42% 49% 8% 7%
27–30 Nov 2017 Online Yes Survation/Daily Record 1,017 42% 48% 10% 6%
2–5 Oct 2017 Online No YouGov/The Times 1,135 39% 50% 8% 11%
8–12 Sep 2017 Online Yes Survation/Scottish Daily Mail 1,016 42% 49% 9% 7%
31 Aug–7 Sep 2017 Online Yes Panelbase/Sunday Times 1,021 40% 53% 6% 13%
9–13 Jun 2017 Online Yes Survation/Daily Record 1,037 39% 53% 7% 14%
8 Jun 2017 2017 United Kingdom general election
6–7 Jun 2017 Telephone Yes Survation/Daily Record 1,001 36% 56% 7% 20%
2–7 Jun 2017 Online Yes Panelbase 1,106 41% 53% 6% 12%
1–5 Jun 2017 Online No YouGov/The Times 1,093 38% 50% 8% 12%
31 May–2 Jun 2017 Online Yes Survation/The Sunday Post 1,024 42% 50% 8% 8%
22–27 May 2017 Telephone No Ipsos Mori/STV 1,016 45% 51% 3% 6%
15–18 May 2017 Online No YouGov/The Times 1,032 39% 49% 8% 10%
4 May 2017 2017 Scottish local elections
24–27 Apr 2017 Online No YouGov/The Times 1,017 40% 49% 8% 9%
18–21 Apr 2017 Online Yes Panelbase/Sunday Times 1,029 43% 52% 5% 9%
18–21 Apr 2017 Online No Survation/Sunday Post 1,018 43% 48% 9% 5%
7–11 Apr 2017 Online Yes BMG/Herald 1,041 43% 45% 11% 2%
29 Mar–11 Apr 2017 Interview Yes TNS 1,060 34% 53% 13% 19%
13–17 Mar 2017 Online Yes Panelbase/Sunday Times 1,008 42% 53% 5% 11%
9–14 Mar 2017 Online No YouGov/The Times 1,028 37% 48% 11% 11%
8–13 Mar 2017 Online Yes Survation/Scottish Daily Mail 1,019 43% 48% 9% 5%
13 Mar 2017 Nicola Sturgeon announces the intention to seek approval for a Section 30 order enabling an independence referendum
24 Feb–6 Mar 2017 Telephone Yes Ipsos Mori/STV 1,029 47% 46% 6% 1%
23–27 Feb 2017 Online Yes BMG/Herald 1,009 41% 44% 15% 3%
8–13 Feb 2017 Online Yes Panelbase/Wings Over Scotland 1,028 44% 51% 6% 7%
26–31 Jan 2017 Online Yes BMG/Herald 1,067 43% 45% 10% 2%
20–26 Jan 2017 Online Yes Panelbase/Sunday Times 1,020 43% 51% 7% 8%
9–16 Dec 2016 Online Yes BMG/Herald 1,002 40% 47% 13% 7%
29 Aug–16 Dec 2016 Online No YouGov 3,166 39% 47% 11% 8%
24–29 Nov 2016 Online Yes YouGov/The Times 1,134 38% 49% 13% 11%
28 Sep–4 Oct 2016 Online Yes BMG/Herald 1,010 39% 47% 15% 8% Non-standard question[notes 5]
9–15 Sep 2016 Online Yes Panelbase/Sunday Times 1,024 44% 50% 7% 6%
5–11 Sep 2016 Telephone Yes Ipsos Mori/STV[permanent dead link] 1,000 45% 50% 5% 5%
5–10 Sep 2016 Online Yes Survation 1,073 42% 48% 10% 6%
10 Aug–4 Sep 2016 Interview Yes TNS 1,047 41% 47% 12% 6%
29–31 Aug 2016 Online No YouGov/The Times 1,039 40% 46% 13% 6%
20–25 Jul 2016 Online No YouGov 1,005 40% 45% 14% 5%
13 Jul 2016 Theresa May becomes the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
24–28 Jun 2016 Online Yes Survation/Scottish Daily Mail 1,055 47% 41% 12% 6%
25–26 Jun 2016 Online Yes Panelbase/Sunday Times 626 47% 44% 8% 3%
25 Jun 2016 Online Yes Survation/Daily Record 1,002 48% 41% 9% 7%
24 Jun 2016 David Cameron resigns as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Nicola Sturgeon announces her government would draft legislation for a second independence vote
23 Jun 2016 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum
18 Sep 2014 2014 Scottish independence referendum results 3,623,344 44.7% 55.3% 10.6%

Three-option polling[edit]

Before the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, some three option opinion polls were conducted, giving respondents the option of full independence, some (undefined) form of increased devolution and the status quo. One poll of this type has been conducted since the EU membership referendum.

Polling organisation/client Independence Devo Max Status Quo Undecided
24–28 Jan 2018 Survation/Scottish Independence Referendum Party 32% 15% 36% 17%

Independence & EU polling[edit]

Since 2014, Scotland has voted both to remain within the United Kingdom and the European Union. Since the UK's vote to leave the EU, opinion polls have been conducted that asks whether voters would prefer for Scotland to become independent to remain in the EU or for Scotland to remain in the UK and leave the EU.

Polling organisation/client Independence within the EU Remain in the UK and leave the EU Undecided
21–27 Jun 2018 Panelbase/Wings Over Scotland 42% 44% 14%
15–20 Dec 2017 Panelbase/Wings Over Scotland 39% 40% 21%[a]
  1. ^ Includes voters who would not vote – 10% were undecided; 11% would not vote.

Regional opinion polling[edit]

Edinburgh South[edit]

Edinburgh South had the highest proportion of Remain votes of any parliamentary constituency in Scotland outside of Glasgow North and Edinburgh North and Leith at the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum at 77.8% Remain 22.2% Leave.

Polling organisation/client Sample size Yes No Undecided Lead Notes
8 Jun 2017 2017 United Kingdom general election
3–4 April 2017 Survation/Stop Brexit Alliance 530 34% 55% 10% 21% Excludes 16 and 17 year-olds
18 Sep 2014 Scottish independence referendum, 2014 results 58,738 34.7% 65.3% 30.6%

Hypothetical polls conducted before the EU referendum[edit]

Before the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, there were some opinion polls conducted which asked people if they would vote for Scottish independence in the (then hypothetical) event of a "leave" vote in that referendum.

Polling organisation/client Sample size Yes No Undecided Lead
23 Jun 2016 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum
6–16 Jun 2016 [permanent dead link] TNS 1,008 43% 46% 9% 3%
6–10 May 2016 ICM/The Scotsman 1,000 44% 47% 9% 3%
23–28 Apr 2016 Panelbase/Sunday Times 1,074 47% 44% 9% 3%
6–15 Apr 2016 Panelbase/Sunday Times 1,021 46% 45% 9% 1%
1–7 Feb 2016 Ipsos Mori/STV 1,000 54% 39% 7% 15%

On the prospect of a second referendum[edit]


Analysis of opinion polling from early 2017 by Professor John Curtice found that around 50% of Scottish voters were opposed to the holding of a second referendum on Scottish independence, with just over a third in support of holding another referendum.[119]

A September 2017 poll by Survation gave respondents an option of when they thought a second referendum should be held. 22% said that they'd support holding a referendum before Britain leaves the European Union, 13% said around the time Britain leaves the EU, a further 13% said that a referendum should be held a few years following the UK's exit and 8% said a referendum should come after the 2021 Scottish Parliamentary elections. 37% said that a referendum should never be held on Scottish independence again, with 8% undecided.[120]

A Panelbase poll from the same month found that 17% of people thought that a referendum should be held while the UK is negotiating its exit from the European Union, 26% said that a referendum should come once the negotiations had finished, while 58% said that a referendum shouldn't be held before the United Kingdom's exit from the EU.[121]


In January 2018, YouGov found that 54% of people opposed holding a referendum in principle, compared to 36% who supported holding one. These numbers fell when asked whether a referendum should be held following Brexit negotiations, but before the UK leaves the EU, to 51% and 35% respectively. The same poll found that 36% supported holding a referendum once Britain has left the EU, compared to 47% opposed.[122]

A March 2018 poll by Ipsos Mori found that 42% of Scots supported holding a second referendum within the next three years, compared to 47% who opposed one; 8% said that they neither supported or opposed a referendum being held within this timescale. Support for a referendum was highest among sixteen to thirty-four year-olds, the unemployed, charity workers, council house dwellers and people living in the 20% of most deprived areas in Scotland. Opposition was greatest from people aged over fifty-five, retirees, homeowners and people with no formal qualifications.[123]

Opinion polling in the rest of the United Kingdom[edit]

In 2014 a plurality (41%) of people polled in England and Wales thought that Scotland would vote to remain in the United Kingdom.[124] However, an Opinium poll carried out 28–30 June 2016 showed a marked change, with 69% believing that Scotland would vote for independence in a second referendum, with 16% believing it would vote against independence.[125]

A May 2018 poll, conducted by Panelbase, suggested that 52% of English-born English-based voters would vote to enter into a political union with Scotland if the countries were independent of each other, compared to 58% supporting a union with Wales and 43% with Northern Ireland.[126] The poll additionally found that 43% of English voters would accept Scotland leaving the United Kingdom as a result of the exit from the European Union, compared to 35% who would oppose this.[127]

Opinion polling in the European Union[edit]

Polls conducted by YouGov in July 2016 found majority support in Germany (71%), Denmark (67%), Finland (66%), Sweden (64%) and France (61%) for Scotland becoming an EU member should it become an independent state, with plurality support in EFTA member Norway (46%) and the United Kingdom as a whole (41%).[128]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Instead of the 2014 referendum question, respondents were asked "On a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 means ‘I completely support Scotland staying part of the UK’ and 10 means ‘I completely support Scotland becoming independent’ what number would you consider yourself to be?". Respondents giving answers between 1 to 4 and 6 to 10 have been mapped to No and Yes here respectively, while respondents giving 5 or "don't know" as answer have been assigned as undecided.
  2. ^ a b c Instead of the 2014 referendum question, respondents were asked "If there was a referendum tomorrow with the question Should Scotland remain in the United Kingdom or leave the United Kingdom?, how would you vote?" and given the options of "Remain" and "Leave", which have been mapped to No and Yes here respectively.
  3. ^ Instead of the 2014 referendum question, respondents were asked "On a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 means ‘I completely support Scotland becoming independent’ and 10 means ‘I completely support Scotland staying part of the UK’ what number would you consider yourself to be?". Respondents giving answers between 1 to 4 and 6 to 10 have been mapped to Yes and No here respectively, while respondents giving 5 or "don't know" as answer have been assigned as undecided.
  4. ^ Instead of the 2014 referendum question, respondents were asked "In a referendum on independence for Scotland held tomorrow, how would you vote?" and given the options of "For Scotland to become an independent country" and "For Scotland to remain as part of the United Kingdom", which have been mapped to Yes and No here respectively.
  5. ^ Instead of the 2014 referendum question, respondents were asked "If a referendum were held tomorrow, on whether Scotland should leave or remain part of the United Kingdom, how would you vote?" and given the options of "To Leave the United Kingdom" and "To Remain in the United Kingdom", which have been mapped to Yes and No here respectively.


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