Independence still an option for Scotland, says Sturgeon

Scottish first minister says ‘all options’ to be explored by her government in wake of Brexit

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking at an  Institute for Public Policy Research conference  in Edinburgh on Monday.   Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking at an Institute for Public Policy Research conference in Edinburgh on Monday. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

 

Independence may offer Scotland the “greatest certainty” in the wake of the UK’s Brexit vote, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.

Speaking in Edinburgh on Monday, Ms Sturgeon promised to explore “all options” to maintain Scotland’s place in the European Union but said it “may well be that the option that offers us the greatest certainty, stability and the maximum control over our destiny is that of independence”.

Almost two-thirds of Scots voted to remain in the EU.

Last month, the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader said that a second independence referendum was “highly likely” following the UK’s vote to leave Europe.

Addressing an event organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research, Mr Sturgeon said a constituent part of the UK that had voted to remain in the EU should have the opportunity “to retain ties and keep open channels we do not want to dismantle”.

She said this should happen before the triggering of Article 50, the procedure under which the UK will begin its formal withdrawal from the EU.

The barriers to achieving a solution that would protect Scotland’s economic, political and social interests in Europe while remaining in the UK were “substantial”, Ms Sturgeon said.

“Even if we can agree a position at UK level, we would face the task of persuading the EU to agree it,” she said.

On independence, Ms Sturgeon said a second referendum “wasn’t my starting point” in negotiations but made it clear that the possibility of another vote remained on the table. “If we find that our interest can’t be protected in a UK context, independence must be one of those options and Scotland must have the right to consider that option,” she said.

Some 55 per cent of Scots voted against independence in a referendum in 2014.

Support for independence

Ms Sturgeon also attacked the British government for failing to prepare for a Brexit vote, calling it “one of the most shameful abdications of responsibility in modern political history”.

Scotland’s first minister also acknowledged that independence would not “be straightforward”.

Support for ending the three-centuries-old union with England has risen slightly since Brexit, but remains finely balanced. Many Scots remain sceptical about the nationalist prospectus, especially given the decline in oil prices since the 2014 vote.

The SNP has put plans for a summer “initiative” making a renewed case for independence on hold in the wake of the Brexit vote. How the EU would react to the prospect of a second referendum is unclear.

Ms Sturgeon’s entreaties have received an ambivalent response across Europe. While Ireland and others have spoken in favour of Edinburgh’s position, others, most notably Spain, have dismissed the prospect of an independent Scotland being fast tracked into the EU.

The Scottish Conservatives said another “divisive” referendum was not in Scotland’s best interests.

“As two million Scots agreed in 2014, leaving the United Kingdom is not in Scotland’s interests, and the Scottish government should therefore end its flirtation with yet another divisive referendum on independence,” said Murdo Fraser, the Tories’ finance secretary.

Scottish Labour’s Europe spokesman Lewis Macdonald said Scotland’s priority should be to protect its place in both the UK and the EU.

“It is essential that the leaders of all the devolved administrations and the UK government work together in advance of any negotiations with the EU. All sides must put posturing to one side for the sake of the country and act in good faith,” he said.