Sturgeon willing to discuss ‘within reason’ timing of referendum

SNP leader attempting to exploit Brexit with independence ‘obsession’, says May

Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon will on Saturday offer to discuss with Theresa May "within reason" the timing of a second referendum on Scottish independence. But she will insist that the Scottish parliament must be allowed to choose if and when it wants to vote again on independence.

"To stand in defiance of it would be for the prime minister to shatter beyond repair any notion of the UK as a respectful partnership of equals. She has time to think again and I hope she does. If her concern is timing then – within reason – I am happy to have that discussion," Ms Sturgeon will tell her Scottish National Party's (SNP) conference in Aberdeen.

The Scottish parliament is set next week to approve the first minister's proposal for a referendum to be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019. But Ms May on Thursday threatened to block a second independence vote for Scotland before Britain leaves the European Union.

Ms Sturgeon will tell her party that, regardless of their views on independence, Scots agree that their future should be determined in Scotland.


“To stand in the way of a referendum denies us that choice. It ensures that the path of our country will be determined, not by us, but for us. Decided for us by an increasingly right-wing, Brexit-obsessed Tory government,” she will say.

Addressing her Conservative party's spring forum in Cardiff on Friday, Ms May accused Ms Sturgeon of "muddle on muddle" in her approach to Scotland's relationship with the EU. She said the SNP was seeking to exploit Brexit to pursue its "obsessive" preoccupation with independence.

The prime minister said that more people in Scotland had voted against independence in 2014 than voted to remain in the EU last year.

“It is now clear that using Brexit as the pretext to engineer a second independence referendum has been the SNP’s sole objective ever since last June,” she said.

Devolving power

The 1998 Scotland Act, which created the Scottish parliament, reserved some powers to Westminster, including the constitution. For a binding independence referendum to go ahead, Westminster must issue an order in council temporarily devolving power to the Scottish parliament to authorise it.

Ms May’s Conservative government has said it will not issue such an authorisation until the process of leaving the EU is complete, two years from now.

Accusing the prime minister of "arrogant bluster", the SNP's deputy leader Angus Robertson said on Friday that she would not get away with blocking a referendum before then.

“If the Scottish parliament decides that there should be a referendum after the Brexit negotiations are concluded, but before Scotland is dragged out of the EU will she respect that?

“Will she give a clear and unambiguous statement today that she will respect the wishes of Scotland’s national parliament? If she does not, this will be the proof that the Tories have returned to the bad old days of Thatcher’s Britain, running roughshod over Scotland and we will not accept that,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times