Wednesday 18 October 2017

Scotland's second independence vote to be postponed, says Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, as she sets out her position on a second independence referendum. Photo: Andrew Cowan/PA Wire
Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, as she sets out her position on a second independence referendum. Photo: Andrew Cowan/PA Wire
Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, as she sets out her position on a second independence referendum. Photo: Andrew Cowan/PA Wire
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, where First Minister Nicola Sturgeon set out her position on a second independence referendum. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, addresses the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, Scotland June 27, 2017. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Nicola Sturgeon confirmed a second vote on Scottish independence is being postponed as she announced a "reset" of the timetable set out for another referendum.

The First Minister had said in March she wanted to give Scots a second chance to vote on leaving the UK some time between the autumn of 2018 and the spring 2019.

But she told MSPs at Holyrood: "We will not seek to introduce the legislation for an independence referendum immediately."

Ms Sturgeon had originally argued another ballot over independence was necessary to give Scots - who voted to stay in the European Union in June 2016 - an alternative to the "hard Brexit" being pursued by the Tories.

She insisted on Tuesday that the Scottish Government "remains committed strongly to the principle of giving Scotland a choice at the end of this process".

Ms Sturgeon said having reflected on the issue in the wake of the general election - in which the SNP's share of the vote fell from 50% to 30% as the party lost 21 Westminster constituencies - she wanted to reassure people.

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, addresses the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, Scotland June 27, 2017. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne
Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, addresses the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, Scotland June 27, 2017. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

The First Minister said she still wanted to give people a choice at the end of the Brexit process when "clarity has emerged" about how the move will impact Scotland and the UK.

In the meantime, she said ministers would "in good faith redouble our efforts and put our shoulder to the wheel in seeking to influence the Brexit talks in a way that protects Scotland's interests".

The Scottish Government will also work to build "maximum support" for the proposals it set out at the end of 2016 - which argued for both the UK and Scotland to remain part of the European single market with "substantial new powers" for Holyrood.

"We will do everything we can to influence the UK in that direction," Ms Sturgeon said.

She added that when negotiations with the EU are complete and "when the terms of Brexit will be clearer", ministers would come back to the Scottish Parliament to "set out our judgment on the best way forward at that time".

This statement, which is likely to happen next autumn, would also set out the Scottish Government's view on "the precise timescale for offering people a choice over the country's future", Ms Sturgeon said.

Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, as she sets out her position on a second independence referendum. Photo: Andrew Cowan/PA Wire
Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, as she sets out her position on a second independence referendum. Photo: Andrew Cowan/PA Wire

To help the Scottish Government influence Brexit talks, Ms Sturgeon restated her plea for SNP ministers to be at the table - and challenged the other parties at Holyrood to back her.

She said: "The Scottish Government will stand the best chance of positively influencing the Brexit outcome if we are at the table, with the full backing of our national Parliament, arguing for the sensible option of staying in the single market.

"So, join us now, with no equivocation.

"Back the demands for the democratically-elected Scottish Government to be at the table, able to influence the UK's negotiating strategy and for Scotland and the UK to stay in the European single market."

Ms Sturgeon added: "The focus of the when and the how of a referendum has perhaps inevitably been at the expense of setting out the many reasons why Scotland should be independent.

"The fact is we are talking of another referendum so soon after the last one because of Brexit.

"It is certainly the case that independence may well be the only way to protect Scotland from the impact of Brexit."

Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, as she sets out her position on a second independence referendum. Photo: Andrew Cowan/PA Wire
Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, as she sets out her position on a second independence referendum. Photo: Andrew Cowan/PA Wire

She said the case for Scotland leaving the UK "goes far beyond that", insisting independence is "the right and the best answer to the many complex challenges we face as a country".

"We must persuade the majority in Scotland of that. We have not done that yet but I have no doubt that we can," she added.

With talks between the Eu and the UK now under way, Ms Sturgeon said the deal was being negotiated by a Westminster government "with no clear mandate, precious little authority and no real idea even within its own ranks of what it is seeking to achieve".

The First Minister added: "It remains my view, and indeed the position of this government, that at the end of the Brexit process, the people of Scotland should have a choice about our future direction as a country.

"Indeed, the implications of Brexit are so potentially far-reaching that as they become clearer, I think people will increasingly demand that choice."

Ms Sturgeon was also clear that the Scottish Government has a mandate to hold a second independence referendum in this Holyrood term.

The SNP won the election at Holyrood in 2016 with a commitment in its manifesto that there could be another ballot if there were a material change of circumstances from September 2014 - such as Scotland being removed from the EU against its wishes.

The Scottish Parliament has also voted in favour of seeking the authority from Westminster to hold a referendum.

"By any normal standard of democracy, that mandate is beyond question," Ms Sturgeon insisted.

"Opposition parties, no matter how strongly they disagree with us on independence, as is their right, should therefore stop trying to turn the basic rules of democracy on their head."

While she said the Scottish Government's mandate for a second referendum was "beyond doubt", Ms Sturgeon said "deciding how and when to exercise it is a matter of judgement".

scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson called on Ms Sturgeon to "give the country some certainty" by taking the Referendum Bill off the table for the rest of this parliament.

She said: "Yes voters and No voters, most people simply don't want this brought back any time soon and none of the questions - none of the questions - that are raised by Brexit are answered by ripping Scotland out of our own union of nations, our biggest market and our closest friends.

"I'm afraid to say that that statement will fail to give an assurance to those people that this First Minister is listening to them.

"Again, she makes virtually no mention of her domestic responsibilities.

"Instead she appears to be in denial about her mistakes over this last year and, as a result, is leaking credibility and confidence in her leadership by the hour.

"Her response actually hasn't been to reflect but to simply lash out at the UK Government at every opportunity and to sing the same old songs in the same old tune."

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale urged Ms Sturgeon to "get on with the job that really matters - improving our schools, growing our economy and fixing our NHS".

She said: "The First Minister says she has heard the views of the people, that she's reflected on the result of the general election, and her incredulous conclusion is to double down and continue with her campaign for independence.

"The truth is the threat of an unwanted second independence referendum is dead and this didn't happen because Nicola Sturgeon wanted it to, the people of Scotland have taken that decision for her.

"The First Minister is digging her heels in, putting her fingers in her ears and pressing on regardless. She is just not listening.

"First Minister, why don't you understand the people of Scotland sent you a clear message at the general election - get back to governing."

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