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Scotland’s leader won’t call unilateral independence vote

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addresses a United Nations conference, Wednesday, April 5, 2017, at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says Britain’s prime minister is doing nothing to break an impasse over Scotland’s future after Brexit, but she ruled out holding a referendum on independence without the British government’s support.

Prime Minister Theresa May has rejected Sturgeon’s request for a legally binding vote on independence within two years. Sturgeon could ignore her and call a consultative vote, but she told The Associated Press in an interview that a new referendum “should be on the same basis as the last referendum in Scotland, which was by agreement and consensus.”

Britain as a whole voted in June to leave the European Union — but in Scotland, the vote was 62-38 percent to remain.

That has reignited the issue of independence, which had seemed to be settled after Scots rejected a break with the United Kingdom in a 2014 referendum.

Sturgeon says the decision to leave the EU has changed things fundamentally, and Scottish voters must not be forced out of the bloc against their will.

She wants a referendum to be held between the fall of 2018 and spring of 2019, before Britain leaves the European Union but when details of the divorce are clear. Scotland’s Edinburgh-based parliament has backed that call, but May says now is not the time for another vote.

Speaking Wednesday during a trip to the United States to drum up support for Scottish businesses, Sturgeon said May’s position is “not a sustainable one.”

“Simply saying, ‘Now is not the time’ only takes you so far before you have to answer the question, well when is the time?” she said. “I might put forward the timescale I think makes sense, and if she doesn’t agree with that then we should discuss what the alternative might be. I’ll set out in due course the steps I intend to take next.”

Sturgeon said she put forward compromises “but we haven’t had any sign from the U.K. government that they want to meet us halfway.”

Independence is a long-cherished goal of Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party, but pushing for a new referendum is a major political gamble for the 46-year-old leader.

Sturgeon said an independent Scotland should be a member of the EU, but there is uncertainty about how quickly it could reapply and regain membership. If Scotland is inside the bloc and the rest of the U.K. out, that could threaten the currently frictionless border between England and Scotland.

“Scotland and England should always trade freely with each other,” Sturgeon said. “It’s in our mutual benefit. But I want that as well as trade within the (EU) single market because that is so important to Scotland’s interests.”

Sturgeon, who has been a critic of Donald Trump, said she would agree to meet the U.S. president and try to build on the already strong relationship between Scotland and the United States.

But she also said she strongly believes it’s important “to stand up and champion values that we hold dear and not allow a diplomatic silence to get in the way of doing that.”

Trump’s mother came from Scotland’s Western Isles and he has often touted his Scottish ancestry. His corporation owns golf resorts in Scotland.

But Sturgeon revoked Trump’s honorary status as a business ambassador for Scotland in 2015 after he proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States — and she told the Scottish parliament in November that she stood by that criticism.

Sturgeon said she has no objection to the golf courses and welcomes U.S. investment.

She stressed, however, that “the fact that Donald Trump owns golf courses in Scotland does not mean that if I disagree with him on a matter of policy or a matter of principle that I will not say that.”

“But I would seek to operate in a way that is respectful and constructive,” she said.

Sturgeon said she is sure “the president has policy disagreements with me,” as he will with many other governments.

But “as first minister of Scotland, I’m not going to decline to meet president Trump,” she said.

“What I’m very keen to stress is that regardless of who occupies the office of president or first minister at any given time, the relationship between Scotland and the United States is a strong one,” Sturgeon said. “It’s very longstanding. It spans family, culture, business, and part of our purpose here in the United States is to strengthen, to build on that relationship.”

That relationship, she said, is “more important than any transient policy disagreements between the governments of the two countries.”

A strong advocate for gender equality, Sturgeon spoke at a United Nations meeting Wednesday on human rights and the role of women in building peace. She reportedly backed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the election and has had no meetings with Trump or his administration during her trip, which she said has focused mainly on strengthening trade and U.S. investment in Scotland.

According to U.S. census figures, there are 10 million Americans with Scots or Scots-Irish ancestry, Sturgeon said, “but surveys repeatedly show that there are around 30 million people in America who claim to have Scots ancestry.”

“That says to me there are 20 million people who are not Scottish in America but would like to be Scottish. So that’s a massive opportunity for us to build on,” she said.

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Associated Press writer Jill Lawless in London contributed

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