EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND —
Scotland's pro-independence leader says the country could make a second bid for independence within 18 months to avoid being dragged out of the European Union with the rest of the United Kingdom.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in comments broadcast Thursday that fall 2018 is "the common sense time" to hold a referendum, "if that is the road we choose to go down."
She insisted that no decision has been made about whether to ask Scottish voters for a mandate for independence.
Sturgeon, who leads the pro-independence Scottish National Party, has complained bitterly about Britain's decision to withdraw from the European Union. Overall, Britain voted by a margin of 52 to 48 percent last year to quit the 28-nation bloc — but voters in Scotland voted by 62 percent to 38 percent to stay in.
Scottish voters rejected independence in a 2014 referendum, with 55 percent voting to stay in the U.K. Sturgeon says the Brexit vote changed the situation dramatically.
She has warned repeatedly that she will not allow Scotland to be taken out of the EU against its will.
In an interview with the BBC broadcast Thursday, she said she was not bluffing about holding another vote and was looking for ways to maintain Scotland's ties with the EU.
British Prime Minister Theresa May plans to invoke Article 50 of the EU's key treaty — the trigger for two years of exit negotiations — by March 31, putting the U.K. on course to leave the EU by early 2019.
Sturgeon said the second half of 2018 could be when "the outline of a U.K. deal becomes clear."
Last week May accused Sturgeon and her party of "tunnel-vision nationalism which focuses only on independence at any cost" and said that preserving the unity of the U.K. is a key objective of her government.