Nicola Sturgeon calls for Scottish independence referendum before 2021 if UK leaves the EU

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon issues a statement on Brexit and independence in the main

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon issues a statement on Brexit and independence in the main chamber at the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Scotland's first minister has announced that she will start the legislative steps for an independence referendum by 2021 if the UK is to be taken out of the EU.

In an address to MSPs at Holyrood, she said: 'A choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation should be offered in the lifetime of this parliament.

'I can confirm that the Scottish Government will act to ensure that the option of giving people a choice on independence later in this term of parliament is progressed.'

The current Scottish Parliament will sit until May 2021.

Her speech - which was not applauded by half the house - said that Westminster has failed to protect Scottish interests.

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She argued that if the UK leaves the EU, Scotland's independence would protect the country from its ill effects.

'That will be our route to avoiding the worst of the damage that Brexit will do,' she said.

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'If this cannot be achieved, dealing with the consequences of Brexit ... will be unavoidable.

'I believe the case for independence is stronger than ever.'

She called for an open and non-combative discussion with MSPs holding opposing views as she goes forward, saying: 'The recent times we have seen in Westminster are what happens when parties fail to work together.'

Despite this, both Labour leader Richard Leonard and Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw objected to the plan.

'The statement is inherently divisive,' said Carlaw, adding that an independence referendum would divide 'families, workplaces and communities'.

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