Sturgeon warns of ‘new political era’ of right-wing Conservatives

Scottish first minister tells SNP conference country would have ‘progressive’ future in EU

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon: she retains the overwhelming support of her party, with few dissenting voices heard during the SNP’s three-day conference. Photograph:  Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon: she retains the overwhelming support of her party, with few dissenting voices heard during the SNP’s three-day conference. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

 

The UK has entered a “new political era” dominated by right-wing Conservatives, according to Scotland’s first minister.

Addressing thousands of supporters at the close of the Scottish National Party’s annual conference in Glasgow, Nicola Sturgeon said her country faced a choice between a “progressive” future “at the very heart of Europe” and a hard Brexit under “an increasingly right-wing Tory government”.

“The SNP will never stand by while a right-wing and intolerant Tory government undermines the very fabric of our society,” the SNP leader said on Saturday.

Ms Sturgeon once more held out the possibility of independence to maintain Scotland’s place in the European Union in the wake of June’s Brexit vote.

Scotland must have the ability to choose a better future. And I will make sure that Scotland gets that chance,” she said.

Earlier in the week, Ms Sturgeon confirmed that a consultation on holding a second referendum will be published this week.

Keynote speech

The first minister also used her keynote speech to acknowledge that many Scots remain sceptical about independence, with opinion polls failing to register the spike in support many expected after the UK’s vote to leave the EU, which a majority of Scots oppose.

Independence “will happen only when a majority of our fellow citizens believe that becoming independent is the best way to build a better future, together”, she said.

Scots who rejected independence in 2014 could now back leaving the UK in the wake of Brexit, the first minister added.

“There are many No voters now looking at the Brexit vote with real dismay and wondering if independence might be the best option for Scotland after all.”

As part of a series of moves designed to bolster Scotland’s international trade capacity ahead of Brexit, the Scottish government will appoint a permanent representative in Berlin, new trade envoys and double the number of Scottish trade and investment staff working across Europe.

The SNP leader later said that she believed that a deal could be reached that would allow Scotland to retain access to the European single market, an arrangement that would almost certainly nullify the possibility of a second independence vote before March 2019, the date when the UK’s article 50 process is due to be completed.

“I don’t believe there is a mandate to take the UK out of the single market and I don’t believe there is a majority in parliament,” Ms Sturgeon told the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday.

Not feasible

But Michael Keating, professor of politics at Aberdeen University, says that it is not feasible that Scotland could remain in the EU when the rest of the UK withdraws.

“You’re either in it or you’re not in it, so just imagine, could Scotland stay in the single market if the rest of the UK were to leave the single market?

“That would imply an economic boundary between Scotland and England – customs posts, all the rest of it, checks on product standards, rules of origin – that is the one thing that nobody wants.”

Ms Sturgeon retains the overwhelming support of her party, with few dissenting voices heard during the SNP’s three-day conference.

Some nationalists would like to see a referendum sooner rather than later. Just hours before the first minister’s curtain closing speech, a few hundred people gathered for a rally in Glasgow calling for an immediate vote on leaving the UK. A number carried the same banner: “Time for a sharp Yexit”.