Published: 2017-06-28 10:22
Last Updated: 2017-06-28 10:34
Scotland's under-fire leader Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday deferred plans for a second independence referendum, after a British general election in which her secessionist party suffered major losses.
"We will not introduce the legislation for an independence referendum immediately," the Scottish National Party (SNP) first minister told Scotland's parliament in Edinburgh.
Sturgeon said she would "reset" the timetable for holding a referendum by spring 2019, when Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union.
She said she would look at the plan again in autumn 2018 when the outlines of the deal that Britain is to strike in the Brexit negotiations become clear.
The June 8 election "has re-opened the possibility, however narrow, of averting a hard Brexit and retaining membership of the single market", she said.
Following a bitterly fought campaign, Scotland voted by 55 percent against independence in a 2014 referendum.
The SNP had promised there would not be another such vote for a generation, but Sturgeon argued that the Brexit plebiscite last year justified her demand for a second shot at independence.
- SNP 'in denial' -
Scotland voted last year to stay in the EU, but Britain as a whole opted to leave.
British Prime Minister Theresa May, whose permission would be required for another independence ballot, said Sturgeon should "completely take off the table" the question of independence.
"I think that was the clear message from the general election. I think now is the time for the UK to be pulling together, not being driven apart," she said.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson agreed with May that Sturgeon should end any lingering uncertainty by ruling out the prospect of a referendum for the rest of this parliamentary term.
"Most people simply don't want this brought back anytime soon," Davidson told the Scottish parliament.
She said the SNP leader was "in denial" and "leaking credibility and confidence in her leadership by the hour".
In the June 8 general election, the SNP came first in Scotland but lost 21 parliamentary seats, prompting calls for Sturgeon to abandon plans for independence altogether.
Overall, May's Conservatives lost their majority in parliament, and the premier is now under pressure to soften her demands in the Brexit negotiations with Brussels.
Davidson, in contrast, led the Conservatives to their best result in Scotland in three decades.
She has called for an "open Brexit" that makes economic growth the priority, while hardline Conservatives want a clean break with the European Union by leaving its single market.
- Referendum 'dead' -
Labour, Britain's main opposition party, also remains firmly opposed to a second independence referendum in Scotland, where it used to be dominant.
"The election showed that the Scottish people do not want another unnecessary referendum," Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, calling for the SNP to focus instead on the economy.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale insisted the idea of another independence vote was now "dead" however Sturgeon tried to portray her announcement.
However, SNP lawmaker Alex Neil said the referendum idea could return with a vengeance if the party's demands for Brexit are not met.
Those include a British-EU trade agreement that protects Scottish jobs; that Edinburgh rather than London regains legislative powers repatriated from Brussels; and that Scotland gets back its £1.6 billion ($2.04 billion, 1.81 billion euro) share of Britain's EU contribution.
If these demands are not met, "the case for an independent Scotland will be unanswerable", Neil said.
The Brexit process has also raised a constitutional question over whether London would have to consult the Scottish parliament on the final deal.
May indicated last week this would be the case, raising the stakes if the SNP is able to exercise an effective veto over the deal.
For now, Sturgeon restated her plea for May to allow Scottish ministers to join the negotiations between London and Brussels.
"The Scottish government will stand the best chance of positively influencing the Brexit outcome if we are at the table, with the full backing of our national parliament, arguing for the sensible option of staying in the single market," she said.