Scotland's First Minister sets out independence plan

The people of Scotland must be offered a choice between a hard Brexit and becoming an independent country, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said, as she confirmed plans to seek parliamentary approval to begin discussions with the UK Government on the details of a Section 30 order to enable an independence referendum to take place.

Monday, 13th March 2017, 11:56 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:20 am
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP . Pic-Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

In a speech ahead of the UK Government triggering the UK’s formal process to exit from the European Union, the First Minister said that, despite Scotland voting by 62% to 38% to remain in Europe, the UK Government ‘has not moved even an inch in pursuit of compromise and agreement’ since the Brexit vote.

In addition, the First Minister said the UK Government had ruled out membership of the European Single Market ‘with no prior consultation’ and warned of real economic damage caused by the UK leaving the single market.

Outlining how the democratic mandate for holding another referendum is ‘beyond doubt’, Ms Sturgeon said that the UK Government must stand by the position it took in 2014 that an independence referendum should be, in their words, ‘made in Scotland, by the people of Scotland.’

The First Minister added that there must be clarity on the implications of Brexit for Scotland – and clarity about independence – before the choice is put to the country. She therefore proposed that a referendum take place between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of 2019, when the shape of the UK’s Brexit deal will become clear.

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The First Minister said: “Scotland stands at a hugely important crossroads. On the eve of Article 50 being triggered, not only is there no UK wide agreement on the way ahead – the UK Government has not moved even an inch in pursuit of compromise and agreement.

“All of our efforts at compromise have been met with a brick wall of intransigence.

“UK membership of the single market was ruled out with no prior consultation with the Scottish Government or with the other devolved administrations, leaving us facing not just Brexit, but a hard Brexit.

“And far from any prospect of significant new powers for the Scottish Parliament, the UK Government is becoming ever more assertive in its intention to muscle in on the powers we already have. The language of partnership has gone, completely.

“I will continue to stand up for Scotland’s interests during the process of Brexit negotiations. But I will take the steps necessary now to make sure that Scotland will have a choice at the end of this process – a choice of whether to follow the UK to a hard Brexit, or to become an independent country able to secure a real partnership of equals with the rest of the UK and our own relationship with Europe.”

The First Minister added: “The Scottish Government’s mandate for offering this choice is beyond doubt. So next week I will seek the approval of the Scottish Parliament to open discussions with the UK Government on the details of a Section 30 order – the procedure that will enable the Scottish Parliament to legislate for an independence referendum.

“The UK Government was clear in 2014 that an independence referendum should be, in their words, ‘made in Scotland, by the people of Scotland’ – that is a principle that should be respected today. The detailed arrangements for a referendum – including its timing – should be for the Scottish Parliament to decide.

“It is important that Scotland is able to exercise the right to choose our own future at a time when the options are clearer than they are now, but before it is too late to decide on our own path. By the time a choice comes to be made, there must be greater clarity about Brexit and its implications for us.

“It is just as important that there is clarity about the implications of independence. And there will be.

“We will be frank about the challenges we face and clear about the opportunities independence will give us to secure our relationship with Europe, build a stronger and more sustainable economy and create a fairer society.

“If I ruled out a referendum, I would be deciding – completely unilaterally – that Scotland will follow the UK to a hard Brexit come-what-may, no matter how damaging to our economy and our society it turns out to be.

“That should not be the decision of just one politician – not even the First Minister. It will be decided by the people of Scotland. It will be Scotland’s choice.”

However, there was opposition from cross-border Tories.

Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “There was a binding “once in a generation” referendum just three years ago.

“Scottish National Party voters are deserting Nicola Sturgeon as it becomes evident the party is not managing Scottish affairs well – from the police, to the NHS and education, Scottish voters are becoming more disillusioned by the day.

“I am sure the majority of Scottish voters want to remain part of the strong, historically-successful United Kingdom.”

Borders MSP John Lamont added: “The Borders overwhelmingly rejected separation in 2014 and I have little doubt their opinion has not changed. Today’s announcement from the First Minister represents a broken promise to the people of Scotland when she repeatedly said the 2014 vote was a ‘once in a generation’ event.

“Nicola Sturgeon has today chosen the path of further division and further uncertainty. Far from trying to seek a compromise and standing up for Scotland, as the First Minister claims she has been doing, the SNP have been doing everything they can to further their obsession with separation.

“Leaving the EU will present challenges for Scotland, but none of these challenges are tackled by dragging Scotland out of the United Kingdom and a market worth four times as much as that of the EU.

He added: “Scots don’t want this referendum, instead they want the SNP Government to be focusing on improving our schools, hospitals and roads.

“When the First Minister brings these proposals to the Scottish Parliament I shall, without hesitation, vote against her request to break up the United Kingdom.”

But Borders MP Calum Kerr (SNP) defended the First Minister’s move.

He explained: “Firstly, I want to be absolutely clear about what today’s announcement means. The First Minister requested a Section 30 Order which, if it is granted, would allow the Scottish Parliament to vote on whether to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence.

“The First Minister also pointed out that the Scottish Government’s substantive proposals for Scotland to stay within the Single Market remain on the table.

“There is nothing inevitable about this process. If the Prime Minister is prepared to listen to the 64 per cent of Scots who voted to remain in Europe and seek compromise to accommodate these serious and pragmatic proposals, she could end this process tomorrow.

“It’s also important to emphasise that my party has a clear mandate to take this step: it is entirely consistent with the manifesto commitment that we stood on at last year’s Holyrood election

“Yet the UK government have shown nothing but intransigence. I’ve seen this lack of engagement, clarity and planning as the SNP’s frontbench spokesperson on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at Westminster.

“I have witnessed concern across the rural economy about the enormous impact that Brexit could have on our rural way of life.

“That said, there’s no escaping the fact that voters in the Scottish Borders rejected independence by a considerable margin in 2014.

“Some of you will have changed your view given this new situation we find ourselves in and some of you will remain committed to the position you held in 2014. All of you remain my constituents regardless.

“My utmost priority as your local MP is to represent the Scottish Borders: the part of the Scotland that I was born in and that I’m proud to call my home. My day to day work, campaigns and advocacy for the concerns of our region will always take precedence.

“As Borderers we have a long history of showing resilience in the face of historic changes that are outwith our control. I believe that the First Minister’s announcement today is about providing us with the option to shape the future on our own terms.

“Unlike in 2014, we know that change is coming either way. So the key question now is who we want to be in control of that change and what kind of country we want our children to grow up in.”