Nicola Sturgeon on Scottish independence: If not now, when?

PUBLISHED: 10:30 24 March 2017 | UPDATED: 13:34 24 March 2017

PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

Theresa May is right that now is not the time for a referendum on Scottish independence. But if she disagrees with our timeframe, she must set out her own alternative

Scotland is a European nation.

We have been for centuries, from the times when traders from our shores forged enduring links with our near neighbours on the continental mainland.

And we remain a European nation today, despite the UK-wide result of the EU referendum and the UK Government’s reckless pursuit of a Hard Brexit which threatens economic disaster for Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Scotland voted decisively, by 62% to 38%, to stay in Europe – with every single one of the country’s 32 local authority areas voting Remain. And yet we now face the prospect of being dragged out of the EU and the single market by a UK Conservative government which we didn’t vote for and with just one MP out of 59 in Scotland.

So it is in those circumstances that I have set out plans to give the people of Scotland a choice on their future.

As a result of the Brexit vote, we know that change is now inevitable. The question is what kind of change is right for Scotland. And should that be decided for us – or by us?

Contrary to the promises made by the No campaign before the 2014 independence referendum, staying in the UK has not safeguarded Scotland’s relationship with Europe – it is now directly threatened by it.

With that threat in mind, the Scottish Government was re-elected last year on a specific manifesto pledge which said this: “The Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum… if there is a significant and material change in the circumstance that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.”

That manifesto was endorsed by the largest constituency share of the vote of any party in the history of devolution.

The election result also returned a pro-independence majority to the Scottish Parliament which, combined with the outcome of the EU referendum, gives the Scottish Government an unquestionable democratic mandate for an independence referendum.

Our position will be strengthened if backed by a vote of the parliament, mandating the government to open formal discussions with the UK Government on the process to enable Holyrood to legislate to give the people of Scotland a choice on their future.

It is worth emphasising that the Scottish government did not seek a referendum on independence immediately after the Brexit vote.

Instead, we tried to find common ground with the UK government, and specifically we put forward detailed proposals which would allow Scotland to stay in the UK, while also protecting our place in the single market, even if the rest of the UK left.

We were encouraged in our endeavours by the initial comments of the Prime Minister, who made a commitment last July to seek agreement with the devolved administrations before triggering Article 50.

Yet despite this, Theresa May then ruled out single market membership without any prior notification or consultation with the devolved administrations. That in itself was a breach of the commitment she made in July.

All of our attempts at compromise have been rejected, and have instead been met by a brick wall of Tory intransigence.

If that same approach is the one adopted by the Prime Minister and her colleagues in their dealings with EU partners on Brexit negotiations once Article 50 talks start then it does not bode well for the chances of success.

In terms of the choice we will give the people of Scotland, I have made clear that the earliest point at which an independence referendum would be appropriate would be in the autumn of next year.

It is at that point that the shape of Brexit will be clear – as from then through until spring 2019, the deal will be subject to ratification across all 27 other member states and in Brussels.

Theresa May has said now is not the time for a referendum – I agree with that, but if the UK government disagrees with our timeframe, then they should set out a clear alternative.

My determination at all times since June 23 last year has been to stand up for Scotland’s interests. That is why I have spoken up for the rights of EU nationals living here, who enrich our society but have been so disgracefully treated by the UK government’s failure to date to guarantee their residency status.

It is why I proposed single market membership for the UK as a whole, and why I worked hard to secure a compromise solution for Scotland.

But the UK government has unilaterally rejected all such attempts at compromise, and instead continues its damaging pursuit of a Hard Brexit without regard to the consequences.

In the face of that intransigence, I am determined that the people of Scotland will have a choice on the nation’s future.

Nicola Sturgeon is the First Minister of Scotland

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