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13 March 2017

Nicola Sturgeon calls second Scottish independence referendum

The First Minister will seek permission for a vote to be held between next autumn or spring 2019.

By Patrick Maguire

The Scottish government will seek authority to hold a second independence referendum between autumn of next year or spring 2019, Nicola Sturgeon has said. 

In remarks that were explicitly critical of Theresa May’s approach to negotiations with the EU, the First Minister said she would ask the Scottish Parliament to vote in favour of her plan to trigger Section 30 of the Scotland Act next week. 

Sturgeon said her government’s mandate to call the second poll was “beyond doubt”, and, with the UK set for a hard Brexit, said she had set a timeframe that would allow Scotland the chance to decide on independence before it was “too late to choose a different path in a timely way”. She added that any vote would take place after the UK’s exit negotiations with the EU27 had concluded but before the Brexit process was complete – when uncertainty over Britain’s future will arguably be greatest. 

Sturgeon said any attempt by May to withhold permission for Scotland to hold a second vote would be “tantamount to the UK government, having sunk the ship with the Brexit vote, trying to puncture Scotland’s lifeboat as well”.

With the Prime Minister set to trigger Article 50 as early as tomorrow, Sturgeon criticised May’s “hardline” approach to negotiations. She said the PM had “not moved even an inch in compromise” and that the Scottish government’s calls for continued single market membership or a bespoke deal had been met with a “brick wall of instransigence”.

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She added that Labour’s collapse meant the UK faced a “prolonged period of uninterrupted and unchecked Tory government” from now until 2030. 

Though opinion polls have yet to show a majority of the Scottish public supporting independence, Sturgeon said she was confident she could win – adding that the “material change” in Scotland’s circumstances after Brexit justified her decision to demand a new referendum despite the lack of public support. 

Despite having fired the starting gun on a second referendum, however, Sturgeon stressed that she was still open to further negotiations with May. 

“Of course my door will always be open to discussion, notwithstanding the track that I’ve laid out today,” she said. “But the conduct and the response of the UK government thus far tells me that they are not interested in, or willing to compromise.”

Responding to Sturgeon’s speech, Downing Street said a “divisive” second poll would “cause economic uncertainty at the worst possible time”. A 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. Another referendum would be divisive and cause huge economic uncertainty at the worst possible time.

“The Scottish Government should focus on delivering good government and public services for the people in Scotland.”