Nicola Sturgeon tells Westminster politicians to ‘get a grip’

Scotland’s first minister says second independence referendum remains ‘on the table’

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon listens in the debating chamber of the Scottish parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh, on Tuesday. Photograph: Scott Heppell/Reuters

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon listens in the debating chamber of the Scottish parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh, on Tuesday. Photograph: Scott Heppell/Reuters

 

A second referendum on Scottish independence remains “on the table” following last week’s Brexit vote, Nicola Sturgeon has said. Scotland’s first minster also called on the British parliament to “get a grip” amid political paralysis in Westminster.

The flags of the UK, Scotland and the European Union flew outside Holyrood as the Scottish Parliament met in an emergency debate on keeping Scotland in the EU.

“Everything must be on the table to protect our place in Europe – including a second independence referendum,” Ms Sturgeon said, adding that the Scottish government would “explore all options open to Scotland to secure our relationship with the EU”.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) leader also reflected on discussions with Irish political leaders and announced the establishment of a council of experts to advise the Scottish government “on the best way to achieve our EU objectives”.

Scotland voted by a large margin to remain in the EU, sparking calls for a second independence referendum. On Friday, just hours after the Brexit result, Ms Sturgeon said that another vote on leaving the UK was “highly likely”.

In front of a full house in the Holyrood parliament, she said removing Scotland from the EU “against the will of our people…would be democratically unacceptable”. She also condemned “the vacuum that has developed at Westminster”.

“One thing is clear: there cannot be three months of drift while both the government and main opposition parties at Westminster immerse themselves in internal elections. That would compound the difficult situation we are already facing and risk even more damage to our economy,” Ms Sturgeon said.

Second referendum

The Scottish nationalist leader held open the possibility of another referendum in the future. “The country and the constitutional settlement the people of Scotland voted for in 2014 in no longer a reality,” she said.

For now, Ms Sturgeon will concentrate on attempting to negotiate a deal for Scotland to remain within the European Union. She will travel to Brussels on Wednesday to meet representatives of the major groups in the European Parliament and the president, Martin Schulz. European Council president Donald Tusk turned down a meeting with the Scottish first minister.

In an at times testy debate in the Scottish parliament, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson accused the SNP of using the Brexit vote to push for independence.

“The SNP has done nothing but talk about independence, and does so again today,” said Ms Davidson. An alternative Conservative motion excluding the possibility of a second independence referendum was defeated.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said “all options” needed to be explored, including a federalised UK. A visibly angry Ms Dugdale heavily criticized the Conservatives for holding the EU referendum “to resolve an ego contest in the Tory party”.

Scottish Labour and Conservatives worked together on the successful Better Together campaign against independence in 2014. But once a dominant force in Scottish politics, Labour is increasingly divided on the constitution. Labour privately admit the party would take a much softer line in a future vote on leaving the UK. Former Labour first minister Henry McLeish is among those who have expressed support for the idea of independence in the wake of Brexit.

Ms Sturgeon announced the formation of a council of prominent experts to advise the Scottish government “on how best to achieve our EU objectives”. Among the members are Sir David Edward, former judge in the European Court of Justice, economist John Kay and Labour MEP David Martin.

Ms Sturgeon met President Michael D Higgins in Glasgow earlier this week and spoke with Taoiseach Enda Kenny on Tuesday morning. The president is due to address the Scottish parliament on Wednesday.

Outside the parliament, hundreds attended a lunchtime rally to “Keep Scotland in Europe”. A piper played on the lawn while protesters carried pro-EU placards and banners.

“We are democrats. We want to find a way to respect the democratic mandate for the people of Scotland to stay in the EU,” said Green activist Sarah Beattie-Smith. “We want to explore every possible option for how to stay in the European Union. Of course that includes independence.”