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Brexit fallout: Scottish leader takes step toward independence vote

Scotland's leader says she will publish a bill next week laying the groundwork for a new independence referendum — the first step toward a new vote on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom.

Nicola Sturgeon to publish bill next week laying groundwork for new independence referendum

First Minister of Scotland and the leader of the Scottish National Party Nicola Sturgeon gestures at the start of the SNP's biggest-ever conference, in Glasgow on Thursday. (John Linton/PA/Associated Press)

Next week the Scottish government will publish a bill laying the groundwork for a new independence referendum, the country's leader announced Thursday — the first step toward a new vote on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom.

Scottish voters rejected independence in 2014 by 55 per cent to 45 per cent, but Britain's June 23 vote to leave the European Union has reopened the Scotland question. By a large majority, Scots backed remaining in the EU, but they were outnumbered by a majority in England who wanted to leave.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told her pro-independence Scottish National Party on Thursday that "the Independence Referendum Bill will be published for consultation next week."

She said if Britain leaves the EU's enormous single market of 500 million consumers, "Scotland will have the right to decide, afresh, if it wants to take a different path."

"A U.K. out of the single market — isolated, inward looking, hemorrhaging jobs, investment and opportunities — will not be the same country that Scotland voted to stay part of in 2014," Sturgeon said.

Not a certainty

"If that's the insecure, unstable prospect we face as part of the U.K., then no one will have the right to deny Scotland the chance to choose a better future."

A new Scottish referendum is not a certainty. Opinion polls suggest that there is not yet a majority in favor of independence.

Sturgeon said the British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government must give Scotland's Edinburgh-based Parliament "substantial additional powers," including power over immigration, if it wanted to keep Scotland in the U.K.

She told the British government that "in 2014, you told us Scotland was an equal partner in the U.K. Well, the moment has come to prove it."

Nicola Sturgeon announces referendum bill consultations 0:37