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Scottish nationalists want new independence referendum in 2020

Scotland's First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Nicola Sturgeon Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Aberdeen, United Kingdom Oct 15, 2019, 09.49 PM (IST)

The Scottish National Party will call for a new referendum on independence next year, its leader said on Tuesday, after polls indicated growing support of a breakaway from the rest of Britain.

Nicola Sturgeon told delegates at the party's annual conference in Aberdeen it was "beyond doubt" that it was time to offer a choice on the issue.

"My call is that the referendum must happen next year," she said, adding that legal preparations were underway for the vote and would be completed in the new year.

"Before the end of this year, I will demand the transfer of power that puts the legality of a referendum beyond any doubt."

The devolved government in Edinburgh, which Sturgeon leads as the first minister, has to seek permission from the British parliament in London to hold a second referendum.

Members of the Scottish parliament in 2017 gave their backing for a request but the then-prime minister Theresa May said it was "not the time" to be talking about a new independence vote.

Scottish voters said "no" to independence in 2014 after a closely fought referendum campaign. But Brexit has put the issue back on the table.

Sturgeon said after the landmark 2016 vote on Britain's membership of the European Union that there had been a "significant and material change in circumstances" to allow another vote.

Unlike England and Wales, Scotland voted by nearly two-thirds to stay in the EU.

A Sunday Times Scotland survey published this week suggested 50 per cent of voters now backed independence, up by one point over the last poll in June and five points from the 2014 vote.

Tens of thousands of pro-independence supporters marched in Edinburgh last Saturday to call for a fresh vote.

Sturgeon said Brexit had been a "disaster" and, deal or no deal by the end-of-the-month deadline, "neither of these outcomes is in Scotland's interest".

She welcomed the prospect of a snap election, saying it would be an opportunity to send a message demanding independence and Scotland's right to choose its own future.

In London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman told reporters: "The referendum which took place in Scotland was a once in a generation event. 

"They were the words of the Scottish National Party at the time."