- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
On Thursday, British Prime Minister Theresa May slapped down Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s proposal to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence before Britain completes its own divorce from Europe. May said “now is not the time,” and that the referendum could not be held until after the completion of Brexit, which will likely be in 2019 at the earliest.
May’s reason for postponing the referendum? “To look at the issue at this time would be unfair, because people wouldn’t have the necessary information to make such a crucial decision,” she said.
That’s pretty rich. In 2014, the first time Scotland held a referendum on independence — it failed, 55 percent to 45 percent — those who voted to remain in the United Kingdom did so knowing that Scotland would be remaining in the European Union. The appeal of Europe is precisely why many believe a second referendum could succeed: 62 percent of Scots voted against Brexit. In the Brexit referendum, on the other hand, Brits the day after the vote began frantically Googling “What is the EU?” and “What does it mean to leave the EU?,” suggesting that a lack of information hasn’t stopped Brits from holding referendums before. She also said Sturgeon was setting “Scotland on a course for uncertainty and division,” and accused her of playing politics with her country’s future, a quote here submitted without comment.
Sturgeon responded as all heads of government do nowadays: on Twitter.
Sturgeon tweeted that she was not proposing a referendum “now,” but before the completion of Brexit and before “it is too late to choose an alternative path.” She said that a refusal to allow a vote would mean that May’s Tories were blocking the will of the Scottish people and afraid of their results.
And then she dropped the proverbial mic, responding to a tweet by a fellow Scottish National Party member that read, “Just imagine Brussels had told the UK that they are not allowed to have a referendum. That’s the difference between Scotland’s ‘two Unions.'” like this:
Sturgeon’s spokesperson later hinted they would accept a referendum held by 2021 — but only after the Scottish leader had called May’s comment “a democratic outrage.”
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