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Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister, at Bute House, her official residence, in Edinburgh, June 3, 2015. (Andrew Testa/New York Times)
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister, at Bute House, her official residence, in Edinburgh, June 3, 2015. (Andrew Testa/New York Times)

Globe editorial

Globe editorial: Nicola Sturgeon’s call for another Scottish referendum is crass opportunism Add to ...

It’s all too familiar to Canadians: a separatist government that didn’t get the result it wanted in a first referendum comes back for another try, because of a “material change of circumstances.”

That’s how Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, put it on Monday when she announced that she will seek permission from the British Parliament to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence.

The Leader of the Scottish National Party says the result of the first referendum in 2014 – in which 55.3 per cent of voters said no to independence – is no longer relevant because the British government has since confirmed its intention of leaving the European Union.

Leaving the EU, of course, is the result of that other recent U.K. referendum, a.k.a. Brexit, in which a slim majority of Brits – 52 per cent – voted to leave the common market, but a strong majority of Scots – 62 per cent – voted to remain.

Ms. Sturgeon is using that difference of opinion to justify a second referendum. She wants it to be held in the fall of 2018 or the spring of 2019, after the British government reveals the details of its exit arrangement with the EU.

This is crass political opportunism, and it will hurt Scotland by adding an extra layer of economic uncertainty to the one created by Brexit. There is no guarantee that the EU would accept an independent Scotland into its club. Ms. Sturgeon could be setting Scotland down a disastrous path toward being excluded from both the EU and the U.K.

Furthermore, it would come as a surprise to many Scots to learn that the defining distinction between themselves and the English is a desire to be in one free-trade arrangement as opposed to another. Regardless of the deal the U.K. reaches with the EU, it will continue to pursue free trade with European partners. That’s not going away.

But this is how separatist movements survive – by seizing on emotional issues and trying to force the outcome through the artifice of a referendum. The Brits know this too well, now.

And we Canadians know something else: that if it wasn’t Brexit, Ms. Sturgeon would have eventually found another “material change of circumstances” to justify a second referendum. This was always going to happen. Brexit just brought it about sooner than expected.

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