Author: Anushka Asthana
Nicola Sturgeon has said the Scottish people will be given a choice whether to follow the UK into a “hard Brexit” or become an independent country between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.
The Scottish first minister said she was firing the starting gun on a second independence referendum because the British government had failed to move “even an inch” towards compromise over EU negotiations.
A spokesman for Theresa May responded by saying a second referendum would be “divisive and cause huge economic uncertainty at the worst possible time”.
Setting out plans to seek the authority of the Scottish parliament, Sturgeon said: “Since last June my focus has been on trying to find an agreement with the UK that would reconcile the UK-wide vote to leave the European Union with the Scottish vote to remain.”
She argued that she had initially been encouraged by May’s commitment to seek a UK-wide approach – and said her government had put forward proposals that offered compromise.
“We accepted that Scotland would leave the EU despite the 62% vote to remain but we argued that the UK should stay in the single market or seek an outcome that would allow Scotland to do so. We set out how greater powers for the Scottish parliament could help protect Scotland’s interest in a post-Brexit landscape.
“Over the past few months we have worked really hard to find agreement. The prime minister and her government have been given every chance to compromise.” But Sturgeon accused May of failing to act in good faith, saying her government had hit a “brick wall of intransigence”.
In particular Sturgeon cited the decision to leave the single market – revealed in the prime minister’s Lancaster House speech – without consultation. “Not just Brexit but hard Brexit,” said Sturgeon, arguing there had been a “point-blank refusal to discuss a differential approach”.
Moreover, she said, the UK government had become even more assertive over Scotland’s powers.
“The language of partnership has gone completely. If Scotland can be ignored on an issue as important as the membership of the EU, it is clear our voice and interests can be ignored at any time.” The SNP leader said tshe wanted May to get a good deal from the EU, and would fight for Scotland’s interests during that process.
“But I am far from alone in fearing a bad deal or indeed no deal. Nor am I alone in fearing that even a so-called good deal will be significantly inferior to membership of the single market and that it will set Scotland on a course that will not only damage our economy but change the very nature of the society and country that we are.
“The problem with doing nothing now is that by the time these fears are realised it would be too late for Scotland to choose a different path.”
But May’s spokesman said: “Only a little over two years ago people in Scotland voted decisively to remain part of our United Kingdom in a referendum which the Scottish government defined as a ‘once-in-a-generation’ vote. The evidence clearly shows that a majority of people in Scotland do not want a second independence referendum.” He said the government had worked closely with the devolved administrations, and there was common ground around workers’ rights, the status of EU citizens and security.
“The Scottish government should focus on delivering good government and public services for the people in Scotland.”
The speech triggered an immediate response from the Conservative and Labour leaders in Scotland.
Ruth Davidson, the Tory leader, said: “Nicola Sturgeon has today chosen the path of further division and uncertainty. We will vote against any request for a section 30 next week.” A section 30 order transfers power from Westminster to the Scottish parliament and is needed to trigger negotiations about how and when to hold another referendum.
Labour’s Kezia Dugdale said: “Scotland is already divided enough. We do not want to be divided again, but that is exactly what another independence referendum would do.” She said that 85% of people voted in 2014’s referendum with a clear vote against independence. Dugdale said a majority had rejected the “SNP’s false hopes and lies”.
Jeremy Corbyn said: “The 2014 Scottish independence referendum was billed as a once-in-a-generation event. The result was decisive and there is no appetite for another referendum.
“Labour believes it would be wrong to hold another so soon and Scottish Labour will oppose it in the Scottish parliament. If, however, the Scottish parliament votes for one, Labour will not block that democratic decision at Westminster.”
He said that if there was a referendum Labour would oppose independence as it was not in the interests of Scotland.
The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, said his party would oppose another referendum. “The SNP are risking taking Scotland out of both the UK and out of the EU. Being outside both would be the worst of all worlds for Scotland.”