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Celebrations outside the Scottish Parliament after MSPs backed calls for the powers to hold a second independence referendum. PA Wire/PA Images

Scottish lawmakers back independence on eve of Brexit

The Edinburgh parliament voted by 69 votes in favour and 59 against.

Updated: 9.10pm

SCOTLAND’S PARLIAMENT HAS voted to allow First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to make a formal request to the British government to hold a new referendum on independence, on the eve of the formal launch of Brexit.

The Edinburgh parliament voted by 69 votes in favour and 59 against in a rebuff to British Prime Minister Theresa May, who had argued that a 2014 referendum against independence had already settled the question.

“I hope the UK government will respect the will of this parliament, and if it does so I will enter discussion in good faith and with a willingness to compromise,” Sturgeon said.

Sturgeon will now make a formal request for a referendum but she needs approval from the British government and parliament in London to do so and May has already said that “now is not the time”.

May will begin the process of ending Britain’s 44-year membership of the European Union by invoking Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, opening two years of negotiations.

Last year’s Brexit vote has spurred the independence campaign of Sturgeon, head of the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP), who argues that Scotland is being forced out of the European bloc against its will.

Both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, but they were outnumbered by voters in England and Wales who backed Brexit.

Most recent polls show support for independence is high but still short of a majority.

A survey by ScotCen published earlier this month showed support at 46%,  its highest level since the yearly study began in 1999.

UK an ‘unstoppable force’

Sturgeon and May met in Scotland on Monday, with the prime minister reiterating that the time was not ripe for a referendum and describing the four nations of the United Kingdom as an “unstoppable force”.

The SNP leader has suggested an independence vote should be held by spring 2019 at the latest, before Britain leaves the EU.

Scottish independence referendum independence supporters celebrate outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh today. PA Wire / PA Images PA Wire / PA Images / PA Images

Neither leader has expressed a willingness to compromise and the rift is unlikely to end before Article 50 is triggered.

Rejecting Sturgeon’s request would be politically risky for May, whose government is also trying to prevent the collapse of the power-sharing arrangement which governs Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland executive collapsed in January following a dispute between the two main parties, the Democratic Unionist Party and Irish nationalists Sinn Fein, which failed to reach a new power-sharing deal by a Monday deadline.

The British government has extended the talks and, if a resolution is not reached, fresh elections could be called or London could resume direct rule over Northern Ireland.

“In the absence of devolved government, it is ultimately for the United Kingdom government to provide for political stability and good governance,” Northern Ireland Minister James Brokenshire told parliament on Tuesday.

The fate of the province is one of the priorities set by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. “We will not stand for anything that weakens dialogue and peace in Northern Ireland,” Michel Barnier wrote in the Financial Times on Monday.

With reporting by AFP

Read: US calls for ‘free and fair’ vote after soldiers evict MPs from Maldives parliament >

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