(Recasts first bullet point)
* Sturgeon: 2018 would be a "common sense time" for a
* New poll says support for independence rises, now in the
* United Kingdom due to leave the EU in 2019
* May preparing to trigger formal divorce talks
By Elisabeth O'Leary
EDINBURGH, March 9 Scotland could hold an
independence referendum in the autumn of 2018, just months
before Britain is due to leave the European Union, Scottish
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the BBC, and a second poll
in a month suggested rising support for secession.
The prospect of an independence vote in Scotland that could
rip apart the United Kingdom just months before an EU exit adds
to the complexity of negotiations on Britain's departure from
the European Union.
Scotland's threat of a second independence vote in four
years also raises the pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May as
she prepares to trigger formal exit negotiations with the other
27 members of the European Union over the UK's divorce terms.
Sturgeon said autumn 2018 would be a "common sense time" for
Scotland to hold another independence referendum, once there is
some outline of a deal to exit the European Union.
"Within that window, of when the outline of a UK deal
becomes clear and the UK exiting the EU, I think would be a
common sense time for Scotland to have that choice, if that is
the road we choose to go down," Sturgeon, who heads Edinburgh's
pro-independence devolved government, told the BBC.
No decision has yet been taken on a vote, she added.
Up to now, most polls show support for independence in
Scotland has barely shifted from around 45 percent since 2014,
and that most Scots do not want another vote on secession.
However, a poll by Ipsos MORI on Thursday showed that among
those likely to vote, support for independence had risen to 50
percent, a 2 percent increase in support for independence
compared to Ipsos Mori's last poll. They surveyed 1,029 people
by telephone between Feb. 24 and March 6.
On Feb. 8, a BMG survey for Herald Scotland indicated 49
percent of Scots backed independence, up from 45.5 percent a
Under the UK's constitutional conventions, an independence
vote would have to be approved by May's government which on
Thursday repeated it saw no need for a second ballot.
The results of the June 23 Brexit referendum called the
future of the UK into question because England and Wales voted
to leave the EU but Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay.
CLASH OVER BREXIT
Sturgeon has said that the Brexit plans of the government in
London -- in particular May's decision to prioritise immigration
controls over continued preferential access to the single market
-- made another vote on independence necessary because
circumstances have changed since 2014, when Scots voted 55-45 to
stay in the United Kingdom.
The EU's chief negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier, has
said that an exit agreement with the UK should be reached by
October 2018 though many diplomats and trade negotiators have
expressed concern that a comprehensive Brexit deal would be
difficult to strike in such a short time.
Wary of secessionists in other EU states, the Union was cool
to Scottish pleas to stay in the bloc during the independence
referendum in 2014.
Brexit would be an added complication and an independent
Scotland born through a messy secession battle with London would
have to apply for EU membership after the United Kingdom left,
according to diplomats and EU officials.
Spain, which faces secessionists in its northeastern region
of Catalonia, may have little appetite to approve an independent
Scotland's application for membership of the EU, which would
have to be unanimously approved by EU members states.
May is due to trigger formal exit talks by the end of this
month though legislation giving her approval to do so is
unlikely to clear parliament until mid-March.
Sources close to Sturgeon say May's official notification of
withdrawal from the EU is a key milestone, and no decision on a
referendum would be made before she triggered formal talks.
"Common sense would tell you that ... if we are going to
become independent, better to do so before we are dragged out of
the EU," Stewart Hosie, an SNP lawmaker said.
Scotland has a population of around 5.3 million, according
to the last census, slightly more than 8 percent of the United
Kingdom's population as a whole. It was an independent kingdom
until joining England in the Act of Union in 1707.
(Additional reporting by Alistair Smout and Alastair Macdonald;
Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Toby Chopra)