February 10, 2017 / 4:45 PM / 5 months ago

Not now, Nicola - Scottish town sees no haste for new independence bid

A view of Linlithgow Palace is seen in Linlithgow, Scotland, Britain February 8, 2017.Russell Cheyne

LINLITHGOW, Scotland (Reuters) - Scottish independence supporters in West Lothian have some advice for their First Minister Nicola Sturgeon: bide your time on another referendum.

Britain's decision to leave the European Union and make a clean break with the EU single market in a so-called hard Brexit is fuelling demands in Scotland for a second independence vote because most Scottish voters had wanted to stay in the bloc.

This week a poll suggested support for Scottish secession has risen since the 2014 vote to stick with the United Kingdom, to 49 percent from 45 percent.

Sturgeon's Scottish government last October published a draft bill for a new independence vote to ensure "Scotland is not dragged out of the EU and off a hard Brexit cliff edge against its will".

A ballot that does not have London's blessing would be open to a legal challenge, say constitutional experts, but politicians across the political spectrum in Scotland believe the British government should give way to avoid being seen as thwarting the will of the Scottish people.

Timing is crucial, however. If Scots again vote in favour of continued union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Sturgeon could not only write off her own political future, but also that of her Scottish National Party.

In the central Scottish region of West Lothian - which voted 55-45 percent in 2014 to stay in the United Kingdom, replicating the result across Scotland - many people who support a second referendum urged her to wait to until Brexit actually happens, believing that was when discontent would peak.

"It's getting to the point that a lot of people in the "Yes" (pro-independence) movement would like to go for (another referendum)," said Bob Withers, 79, in Linlithgow, West Lothian's administrative centre and home to the 16th-century palace where Mary, Queen of Scots was born.

"If Brexit turns out to be an utter disaster, as I think it will be, and Westminster politicians continue to tell lies to the Scottish people, as they are doing with a vengeance, you will find a change," he added. "(Sturgeon) is a very canny lass and she will go for a referendum when she thinks she can win."

Another referendum soon could also heap a further layer of political crisis on top of the complications of Brexit and send Britain into constitutional crisis.

Changed Sides

A man walks a dog in the High Street in Linlithgow, Scotland, Britain February 8, 2017.Russell Cheyne

Withers' sentiments were echoed among others interviewed by Reuters, many of whom wanted to see a second referendum on Scottish independence.

Some said they felt British Prime Minister Theresa May's comments last month that she would take Britain out of the EU single market, rather than seeking to retain some form of access, had betrayed Scots.

They said one reason Scots had rejected secession in 2014 was because they were told by unionist politicians it was the only way to guarantee Scotland's continued EU membership and preferential access to its single market of 500 million consumers.

Slideshow (10 Images)

May says she will negotiate with Brussels on Brexit for the whole of the United Kingdom, and has set up committees to take on the views of Wales, which voted to leave the EU, and Scotland and Northern Ireland, which both backed remaining.

But Scottish lawmakers say that their views are not being heard.

Scotland drafted proposals in December to address its own economic needs after Brexit. But the devolved government, which has powers over health, education and taxes, says it is still waiting for London to show it has considered those proposals.

"A lot of my friends have changed sides (to support independence) since Brexit. It's annoyed them," said 64-year-old Linlithgow resident Ian McCann, who supports secession.

"Sturgeon is waiting to see what concessions will come our way. But I think when it comes to the crunch we're going to get nothing," he said, arguing independence sentiment would gather momentum.

Some people in West Lothian are however unwilling to see a third referendum, after the 2014 vote and last year's Brexit ballot, fearing uncertainty piled on uncertainty which could deepen divisions and may hurt Scotland's economy.

"Everything has changed but we have to stick together as a country," said Linda Mitchell, a 63-year-old civil servant who voted against independence but had wanted to stay in the EU. 

"We are still at the very beginning. We don't know what kind of deal (May) will get."

Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary; Editing by Pravin Char

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