By Ellise Nicholls
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has insisted on holding a second independence referendum if the UK take the “hard Brexit” route.
Sturgeon said that such a departure from the European Union would lead to the UK breaking a number of promises it made during the 2014 Scottish referendum.
In her keynote speech at the annual SNP conference in Glasgow on Saturday, the first minister said that in the upcoming months, she would seek “new powers to help keep Scotland in the single market, even if the UK leaves”.
Mrs Sturgeon has said she will publish proposals in the upcoming weeks aimed at allowing Scotland to retain access to the European single market after Brexit. However, Sturgeon insisted that a “hard Brexit” would make a second independence referendum highly likely, deeming it “necessary to protect our country’s interests”.
However, David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, said on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme that the UK government would have to agree to a second referendum. He said Sturgeon’s proposals seem “impossible, for example, that Scotland could remain within the EU whilst the rest of the UK left.”
When pressed on whether Scotland could stay in the EU’s single market, Mundell said: “I think it would be difficult to see how that could be achieved.”
Just hours after Sturgeon said it would be “inconceivable” for the PM to deny Scots the right for a second referendum given they voted to remain in the EU, PM Theresa May said that Sturgeon must respect Scot’s decision in a “once in a generation vote”.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “”There was a referendum in 2014 that addressed this issue that was legal and fair. The result was decisive and both parties agreed at the time to respect it.”
In light of this, the First Minister said: “If the Tory government rejects these efforts, if it insists on taking Scotland down a path that hurts our economy, costs jobs, lowers our living standards and damages our reputation as an open, welcoming, diverse country, then be in no doubt Scotland must have the ability to choose a better future.
“And I will make sure that Scotland gets that chance. And let us be clear about this, too. If that moment does arise, it will not be because the 2014 result hasn’t been respected. It will be because the promises made to Scotland in 2014 have been broken.”
Sturgeon announced that she will publish a draft referendum bill for public consultation next week.
She argued that Scotland is in a situation it did not choose in the EU referendum. More than 60% of Scottish voters backed remain in the June vote on whether to stay or leave the EU. She told the conference: “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.”
Sturgeon is scheduled to meet May and other leaders of devolved administrations next Monday, and she appeared adamant to keep Scotland in the single market.
“I’m not pretending any of this will be straightforward, there’s lots of challenges along the way, but we are in an unprecedented set of circumstances and I think there is an obligation on all of us to try to square the circle. Scotland voted to stay in the EU, and I think we should try to honour that, and I think Theresa May has an obligation to try to honour that as well.”
After the EU referendum result was announced in June, it was revealed that the White House would not advocate Sturgeon’s right for a mandate for a second independence referendum.
White house press secretary Josh Earnest said: “The United States values the critically important security relationship that we have with the United Kingdom.”
The first minister also proclaimed that Scotland would increase its economic presence over the continent through trade missions.
Sturgeon said: “Make no mistake, the threat to our economy is not just the prospect of losing our place in the single market – disastrous though that would be.
“It is also the deeply damaging – and utterly shameful – message that the Tories’ rhetoric about foreign workers is sending to the world. More than ever, we need to tell our European friends that Scotland is open for business.”
Sturgeon’s defiant speech comes in light of the crash of the value of the pound since 23rd June. European Parliament papers revealed that this is likely to cause a huge increase in the UK’s contributions to the EU budget.
Despite the UK government estimation that its 2017 contribution to the EU budget would be £7.1billion, it’s likely that the UK will pay an additional £2billion as a result of the falling pound. The amount payed into the EU is determined by exchange rates on the final day of December of the previous year.
Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who is now European spokesman for Liberal Democrats, said: “It is a bitter irony that the lurch towards a hard Brexit could see contributions to the EU budget increase.
“Brexiteers like to accuse others of talking down the economy, but they are the ones talking down the pound by steering the UK economy towards a damaging exit from the single market.”
Gareth Thomas, Labour’s new shadow local government minister, suggested that Scotland’s strive for power was a move that needs to be reproduced across England.
Thomas advocated the necessity for the government to give income-tax raising powers to regional authorities. He said: “When England voted to take back control in June, it wasn’t voting for even more of the same from Westminster.
“Never mind another ‘shall we, shan’t we’ dance with Nicola Sturgeon, England needs its ministers to understand that Whitehall can seem just as distant as Brussels if you’re struggling to get by in Hull or Falmouth, Sunderland or Southampton.