Brexit may lead to Scottish independence: Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon

A withdrawal from the European Union (EU) by the United Kingdom could trigger a second independence referendum in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, told CNBC.

"If the U.K. makes the decision to leave the EU and Scotland takes a different view, then inevitably I think people will think perhaps it's time to be independent so that we can preserve our membership in the EU, because [that] is very important economically," she said in an exclusive interview with CNBC Asia's "Squawk Box" on Friday.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU and then hold a vote by the end of 2017, fueling fears of a "Brexit" - the possibility of Britain quitting the 28-country economic community - sometime in the future. Last month, ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgraded Britain's prospects as debate over the U.K.'s future in Europe roils on.

According to Sturgeon, a "Brexit" isn't in line with the intentions of some of the regions which make up the U.K., namely Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"England obviously has the much bigger part of the U.K. population, so if England votes to leave, then the U.K. will end up leaving, even if Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland vote to stay," Sturgeon said. "I've been arguing for an arrangement in the referendum whereby the U.K. can only leave if each of the U.K. nations voted to leave, but that's not been accepted by David Cameron."

"I'll be arguing for the U.K. to stay, but if we end up in the position where Scotland is being effectively taken out of the EU against its will, then I think inevitably people in Scotland will want to relook at the question of independence," the 45-year-old added.

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Scottish voters rejected an independence referendum in September, with results showing a resounding support for Scotland to stay part of the U.K., with the 'No' camp gaining 55.4 percent of the vote, against 44.6 percent in favor of independence.

However, recent comments from Scotland's former First Minister Alex Salmond indicate that the issue is far from over.

Speaking to the BBC last week, Salmond - the former leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) - said a second referendum on Scottish independence has become "inevitable" and is now "only a question of timing" on when the SNP would seek to re-run September's poll.

When asked about Salmond's remarks, British Prime Minister Cameron, who was in Southeast Asia for a trade visit this week, has ruled out the notion of another Scottish referendum during his term, according to media reports.

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In response to that, Sturgeon said: "I want Scotland to be independent, but just because I want it, doesn't make it happen. There will only be a referendum if the majority of people in Scotland want it and the reverse is also true.

"If the majority wants it, then David Cameron has no right to stand in the way. It is a democratic process," she added.

The First Minister was in Hong Kong on Friday as part of her trade mission to East Asia. Earlier this week, she led a Scottish delegation to Beijing, a place which holds "huge opportunities" for Scottish businesses, she said.

"Obviously there's a slowdown in the Chinese economy, but it is projected to grow by 7 percent [and] that presents massive opportunities for countries that are keen to trade with China," Sturgeon told CNBC. "What Scotland is keen to do is focus on the areas where we've got real competitive advantage - digital technology, energy, as well as food and drink exports, which are great success for us."