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June 29, 2017

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Election could boost Scotland independence calls: experts

EDINBURGH, Scotland -- Britain's early election could draw some support away from the Scottish National Party (SNP) but will likely bolster First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's call for an independence referendum, experts say.

SNP leader Sturgeon on Wednesday said that Prime Minister Theresa May's opposition to such a referendum would "crumble to dust" if she wins a majority of seats in Scotland in the June 8 election.

In 2015, the SNP won 56 of Scotland's 59 seats and is widely expected to hold on to them, cementing a decade of electoral success. After the failed 2014 independence referendum, Sturgeon has said she now wants a second go because conditions have changed and Scotland risks being "dragged out of the European Union" against its will.

Scotland voted by an overwhelming 62 percent to remain the

EU — compared to an overall national vote of 52 percent for

Brexit — but it cannot hold another referendum without the government's permission.

And May has said that "now is not the time."

"The SNP will absolutely win this election — there is no doubt about it," said Craig McAngus, of Aberdeen University's department of politics and international relations. "You can bet your house on the SNP winning well over 40 percent, possibly into 50 percent, and that will strengthen Nicola Sturgeon's hand."

But Scots are far from united on whether or not to hold a second independence referendum.

Even some nationalists are suffering from voter fatigue after the 2014 referendum, the 2015 general election, the 2016 EU referendum and now council elections in May and another general election in June.

"Theresa May is gambling on the fact people in Scotland will feel they've had enough of independence and that now isn't the time," McAngus told AFP.

"But she can't resist another referendum indefinitely and Nicola Sturgeon still has a few cards up her sleeve."

Sturgeon had pledged to set out her plans for another referendum in the coming weeks, although the snap election will give her a short pause for thought.

McAngus said: "Another Scottish election with another pro-independence majority on a clear mandate that a referendum ought to happen means that it would be a brass neck for the U.K. government to say no.

"Ultimately this referendum will happen in some form. It's just a question of how long it takes."

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