LONDON (Reuters) - No one should stand in the way if Scotland wants another vote on union with England, Scottish nationalist leader Nicola Sturgeon said on Sunday, predicting a referendum will be all but inevitable if Britain decides to leave the European Union.
Sturgeon, whose Scottish National Party (SNP) took nearly all parliamentary seats in Scotland in Britain’s May 7 election, said she had been disappointed when Scots voted in favour of rejecting independence last year, but respected the result.
She told Britain’s ruling Conservatives, however, that if they continued to ignore the Scottish people’s views they risked fanning a growing desire for another referendum to end the more than 300-year-old union between England and Scotland.
The prospect of another Scottish independence vote will be a further headache for Prime Minister David Cameron, who has ruled one out, saying it was “time to move on”.
“I think what we need to do firstly,” Sturgeon told BBC television, “is to respect the result of the referendum last year but also to say very clearly that it’s not the right of any politician to stand in the way of the opinion of the Scottish people if there is an appetite ... to have another referendum.
“It boils down for me to public opinion. If there is no shift in public opinion then I think it would be wrong to propose another referendum, but equally if we do see a sustained shift in public opinion then it wouldn’t be right for anybody to rule it out,” she told the Andrew Marr show.
Sturgeon, 45, who will lead her party at its annual conference later this week, added that she believed Scotland would become independent in her lifetime.
A promised vote on Britain’s membership of the European Union has also fuelled passions in Scotland, which is more EU friendly than England, and Sturgeon said a decision to leave may spur an “unstoppable” desire for Scotland to become independent.
Cameron, who personally wants to remain in the EU, conceded ground to vocal Eurosceptics in the Conservatives by offering the referendum, hoping to bury an issue that divided the party for years. Opinion polls show the British public is split over whether to stay or go.
“(A decision to leave the EU) so fundamentally changes the nature of the UK that people voted to stay part of last year, that I think it is very likely that we would see rising demand for another referendum,” Sturgeon said.
She said she would push the government for more powers to be passed to Scotland so it could have more control over its affairs, describing a draft Scotland Bill to dismantle Britain’s centralised system of government as “inadequate”.
“I very much hope to see it strengthened in key areas of tax, of welfare, of some of the issues that matter most to the people of Scotland,” she said. “We are not asking for any favours but a fair settlement.”
Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Mark Heinrich