WASHINGTON – Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon said in an interview Tuesday that Europe's crisis over Russia's war in Ukraine only makes Scotland's drive for independence more important, and maintained Scotland should play its “full part” ensuring stability and security in Europe as an eventual member of NATO.
Sturgeon spoke to The Associated Press on her first trip to the United States since the pandemic lockdown. Her visit is focused on Scotland's strong progress toward renewable energy and on meetings with congressional lawmakers and others.
But Sturgeon also spoke on her visit of momentum in her government's move to a new Scottish vote on independence from the United Kingdom. She told the AP she still plans a Scotland-wide referendum on that by the end of next year, citing her government's “very firm mandate” on that point from voters.
Sturgeon also made headlines back home with her response Monday during a panel by the Brookings Institution think tank, when asked what the U.S. could do to help Europe's move to cleaner energy:
“Don't reelect Trump,” she answered.
Sturgeon on Monday called her comment “lighthearted." But she followed it then with a grave warning of populist national “strongmen” as a danger to security and environmental policy. Then-President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the global Paris accord aimed at slowing climate change. The Biden administration rejoined the pact but has had mixed success in its hopes of jump-starting national and international transitions away from fossil fuels.
“Keeping my fingers crossed on that one,” she told the AP Tuesday, asked about her reference to Trump's re-election.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered a reshaping of the security, energy and economic alliances of Europe, and united European democracies more strongly than previously. Finland and Sweden have announced their intention to join the U.S.-European NATO security bloc in light of Russia’s war.
A Scotland that’s independent from the United Kingdom would point to still more decisions ahead for NATO members, including the United Kingdom, on admitting additional nations.
Scottish voters rejected a 2014 independence referendum by 55%-45%. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Brexit break from the European Union has angered some in Scotland, and Scottish officials believe a younger Scottish electorate now may look more favorably toward independence.
Johnson's government dramatically escalated a fight with the European Union on Tuesday by saying it will pass a law to scrap parts of the trade treaty signed by the two sides less than two years ago.
Sturgeon, a strong critic of Brexit, told the AP that Johnson's threat of unilateral action was “reckless and irresponsible.”
Sturgeon also rejected arguments from some opponents of Scottish independence that splitting from the United Kingdom would weaken the UK and the overall Western security alliance at a time of crisis on the continent, given Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“With all the challenges,” Sturgeon said, “it’s more important that Scotland plays its full part...in finding the solutions to the challenges the world faces.”
“And independence better equips us to do that,” Sturgeon said.
Sturgeon said she believed there was “overwhelming support” in Scotland to join NATO as a full member in its own right, if it gains independence.
“Scotland’s geographic position, in a key part of the North Atlantic, means that would be essential for our security,” Sturgeon said of NATO membership.
“The principal way that Scotland would contribute for the wider security of the region” would be as a possible future NATO member, she added.
Potential obstacles and complications to any Scottish break from membership in the United Kingdom, as well as any Scottish admission to NATO, are many.
That includes the United Kingdom's longstanding basing of its nuclear arsenal in Scotland. Sturgeon's political party opposes nuclear weapons.
Sturgeon on Tuesday promised “very responsible negotiations” with the United Kingdom on safely moving its Trident nuclear weapons elsewhere.
“Nobody would want to be irresponsible in the timescales that we set for that,” she said.
Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party rose to power partly on a 1970s slogan of “It’s Scotland’s oil,” rallying Scottish desires for more benefit and more say over Scotland’s share of the United Kingdom’s North Sea oil and gas production.
Sturgeon's government, which hosted last year’s U.N. global climate change conference in Glasgow, emphasizes Scotland’s determination to be a global leader in moving away rapidly from climate-wrecking oil and gas production.
But Sturgeon made no guarantees an independent Scotland would wind down its share of oil and gas production any more quickly than Scottish leaders now plan.
Experts and advocates agree the Scots stand out globally on climate for their fast switch domestically away from fossil fuel for electricity and for their work in new energy technology, including hydrogen power.
In 2020, nearly all of the electricity that Scots burned came from climate-friendly renewables, not counting net energy exports.
Using the money-generating oil and gas sector now to plan for, invest in and ease oil-producing countries' move to clean energy was crucial, she said.
“We need to accelerate that journey away from fossil fuels, but nobody should pretend that it’s easy,” Sturgeon said.
“What independence wouldn’t do is somehow magic away the challenges that we face,” she said.