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FM angry over PM's 'intransigence'

May to reject Sturgeon’s bid for second indy poll

Nicola Sturgeon Bute House 13 March
Nicola Sturgeon at Bute House

Prime Minister Theresa May looks certain to knock back First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s call for a new independence referendum.

Ms Sturgeon announced her call for a second poll, sparking immediate division over the country’s future.

She announced that she is to “seek approval” for a second independence referendum.

Ms Sturgeon said, if approved, if would be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019,  adding that the Westminster government “had not moved an inch” in pursuit of a compromise over Europe.

But Mrs May described the announcement as “deeply regrettable” and said the Scottish government should focus on delivering services.

She once again accused the SNP of “tunnel vision” and “playing a game” with the Scottish people.

Her comments came ahead of a bill presented to the Commons to begin the process of negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union. It was passed in the House of Commons on Monday night.

Brexit minister David Davis said: “We are now on the threshold of the most important negotiation for our country in a generation.

“We will trigger Article 50 by the end of this month as planned and deliver an outcome that works in the interests of the whole of the UK.”

The bill will be sent to the Queen for approval which could be granted as early as Tuesday morning, leaving Mrs May ready to start a two-year negotiation period, as set out in Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty.

Earlier, Ms Sturgeon insisted: “The people of Scotland must be offered a choice between a hard Brexit and becoming an independent country.”

She will seek parliamentary approval to begin discussions with the UK Government on the details of a Section 30 order to enable an independence referendum to take place.

The First Minister said the UK Government had ruled out membership of the European Single Market “with no prior consultation” and warned of real economic damage caused by the UK leaving the single market.

She said the democratic mandate for holding another referendum is‘ “beyond doubt”, and the UK Government must stand by the position it took in 2014 that an independence referendum should be, in their words, “made in Scotland, by the people of Scotland.”

The First Minister added that there must be clarity on the implications of Brexit for Scotland – and clarity about independence – before the choice is put to the country.

She therefore proposed that a referendum take place between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of 2019, when the shape of the UK’s Brexit deal will become clear.

The markets appeared to be unmoved by the announcement from Bute House and the pound continued its upward swing against the dollar.

Theresa May
May: deeply regrettable

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “Scotland is already divided enough. We do not want to be divided again, but that is exactly what another independence referendum would do.”

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “Nicola Sturgeon has today given up acting as First Minister for all of Scotland.

“Today she has ignored the majority in Scotland who do not want a referendum and has decided instead to double down on division and uncertainty.

“The First Minister’s proposal offers Scotland the worst of all worlds. Her timetable would force people to vote blind on the biggest political decision a country could face. This is utterly irresponsible and has been taken by the First Minister purely for partisan political reasons.”

Business groups responded cautiously to the announcement.

Hugh AitkenHugh Aitken (right), CBI Scotland director, said: “Scottish businesses have acted with resilience since the EU Referendum, and, in an already uncertain environment, their priority is clarity as soon as possible on what a future deal could look like.

“What’s important is that the needs of Scotland – and the other devolved nations – are heard and understood in the discussions on the UK’s future relationship with Europe. That’s where the CBI’s focus will be.

“The Scottish and UK Governments must continue to work together, with business, to ensure the best deal from the negotiations for Scottish firms, and this work should continue as a matter of priority.”

And Willox, FSB’s Scottish policy convenor, said: “FSB survey work conducted after last year’s Scottish Parliament elections, but before the poll on Europe, revealed very little appetite amongst smaller firms for another independence referendum. 

“Of course, there’s a lot more going on now – in terms of faltering confidence and rising costs – than there was last May.  What we don’t know is if these changes have shifted views one way or the other, but I daresay that will become apparent in the weeks and months ahead.” 

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “Scotland has been through two referendums and two major elections over the past three years, and there is no doubt that this period of continual uncertainty has had a material impact upon businesses in Scotland.

“These are real and present business issues that are affecting business decisions and investment.  A further referendum on Scotland’s independence would be no different, and the more that can be done to mitigate the duration of this uncertainty for business, the better.”

David WattDavid Watt (right), executive director of the Institute of Directors in Scotland, said: “Not many in the Scottish business community wanted Brexit, and equally, few want a renewed Independence Referendum, and the associated continuation of uncertainty which has had such an impact on the ability of businesses to move forward with their plans. 

“The modern world presents a multitude of opportunities for businesses to innovate and prosper, and this rather than constitutional arguments is the preferred focus of IoD members. However, if the political will is to move forward with another vote, business will react appropriately and continue to face up to the challenges that such political activity presents.”

SCDI Director of Policy & Place, Claire Mack, said it had always been a neutral on Scotland’s constitutional relationship with the rest of the UK, adding that “it is vital that as we enter any new debate around Scotland’s constitutional future, we ensure constructive debate around the key economic issues.

Rob Aberdein, chairman of the pro-independence Business for Scotland, said: “A Hard Brexit would be extremely damaging for Scotland, damaging exports and investment, driving inflation upwards and costing tens of thousands of jobs in Scotland. 

“We assume that the UK PM will not agree to a differential deal for Scotland. 

“Business for Scotland will do everything we can to help deliver independence for Scotland so that we can create a better, fairer, more sustainable and economically successful nation where prosperity is shared.”

Professor Nicola McEwen, a fellow of the Centre on Constitutional Change, said: “The support of the Scottish Greens means that the Scottish Government will get the consent it is seeking from the Scottish Parliament. Then the ball will be in the Prime Minister’s court. How accommodative or obstructive she appears to be may have a significant impact on political debate and public opinion.”

Professor David Bell, also a Fellow at the Centre, said:  “I’m not really surprised at this turn of events. Tories political arguments for the UK leaving Europe transfer neatly into SNP arguments for Scotland leaving the UK. While this weakens Unionist arguments, the main obstacles facing the SNP are referendum fatigue and making a convincing economic case for independence.”

On the likely procedure, a third fellow, Professor Stephen Tierney, said: “The Scottish Government will seek Westminster’s approval of a s.30 Order to hold the referendum; it will not seek to run the referendum unilaterally.

“It is unlikely that this request will meet with a flat refusal, but the UK Government may well insist that any referendum be held after a Brexit deal is reached, in order to allow Scots to make a fully informed choice. London could also take a greater interest in the wording of the question than it did for 2014. Other process issues are unlikely to be controversial.

“Whether the referendum goes ahead seems to depend a. on the UK Government’s willingness to seek a special deal for Scotland in Brexit negotiations, and b. the realistic prospect of such a deal being reached.”

First minister’s announcement

The First Minister said: “Scotland stands at a hugely important crossroads. On the eve of Article 50 being triggered, not only is there no UK wide agreement on the way ahead – the UK Government has not moved even an inch in pursuit of compromise and agreement.

“Our efforts instead have been met with a brick wall of intransigence.

“UK membership of the single market was ruled out with no prior consultation with the Scottish Government or with the other devolved administrations, leaving us facing not just Brexit, but a hard Brexit.

‘Language of partnership has gone’

“And far from any prospect of significant new powers for the Scottish Parliament, the UK Government is becoming ever more assertive in its intention to muscle in on the powers we already have. The language of partnership has gone, completely.

“If Scotland can be ignored on an issue as important as our membership of the EU and the single market then it is clear that our voice and our interests can be ignored at any time and on any issue. That cannot be a secure basis on which to build a better Scotland, but it is where we stand today.”

She said that “even at this late stage” she was not “turning her back ” on further discussions, “should the UK government change its mind and decide that it is willing to agree to our compromise proposals.”

She added: “In any event, I will do everything I possibly can to ensure that Scotland’s interests are represented in the EU negotiations that lie ahead.

“But I cannot pretend to the Scottish people that a compromise agreement looks remotely likely, given the hardline response from the Prime Minister, so far.”

She said had to decide on the “best plan” and to set out what happens next to protect Scotland’s interests.

The easiest thing would be to drift through the next two years with fingers crossed.

“I want the UK to get a good deal from the EU negotiations. That is clearly in Scotland’s interests as well as in the interests of our friends in other parts of the UK.

“But I am far from alone in fearing a bad deal, or indeed no deal. Nor am I far from alone in fearing a so called good deal would be significantly inferior to membership of the single market and that it would set Scotland on a course that will not only damage our economy but will change the very nature of the society and country that we are.”

She said that “whatever path we take it has to be one taken by us, not for us.”

Setting out her plan, she said:”I will continue to stand up for Scotland’s interests during the process of Brexit negotiations.

“I will take the steps necessary now to make sure that Scotland will have a choice at the end of this process – a choice of whether to follow the UK to a hard Brexit, or to become an independent country able to secure a real partnership of equals with the rest of the UK and our own relationship with Europe.”

The First Minister added: “The Scottish Government’s mandate for offering this choice is beyond doubt,” adding that it was elected on the basis that it would seek a new poll if conditions changed.

“So next week I will seek the approval of the Scottish Parliament to open discussions with the UK Government on the details of a Section 30 order – the procedure that will enable the Scottish Parliament to legislate for an independence referendum.

‘Scotland must have right to decide its future’

“The UK Government was clear in 2014 that an independence referendum should be, in their words, ‘made in Scotland, by the people of Scotland’ – that is a principle that should be respected today. The detailed arrangements for a referendum – including its timing – must be for the Scottish Parliament to decide.

“It is important that Scotland is able to exercise the right to choose our own future at a time when the options are clearer than they are now, but before it is too late to decide on our own path.”

Referring to the timing of the Brexit negotiations she said Scotland “must plan on the basis of what we do know now.”

The shape of the Brexit deal will become clear by the autumn of next year, she said. “That is therefore the earliest point at which a referendum would be appropriate.

“However, it is just as important that we do not leave it too late to choose a different path in a timely way.”

She said that if the UK leaves the EU without Scotland indicating beforehand or at least within a short time after it that we want a different relationship with Europe we could face a lengthy period outside not just the EU but also the single market and that would make the task of negotiating a different future much more difficult.”

She said that if Scotland is to have a real choice when the terms of Brexit are known but before it is too late to choose our own course then that choice must be offered between the autumn of next year and the spring of 2019.

“The third important aspect of planning ahead is this: there must be greater clarity about Brexit and its implications for us. It is just as important that there is clarity about the implications of independence. And there will be.

“I know there are some want me to rule out a referendum completely. I understand that view and it weighs heavily on me.

“If I ruled out a referendum, I would be deciding – completely unilaterally – that Scotland will follow the UK to a hard Brexit come-what-may, no matter how damaging to our economy and our society it turns out to be.

“That should not be the decision of just one politician – not even the First Minister.  By taking the steps I have set out today it will be decided by the people of Scotland. It will be Scotland’s choice and I trust the people to make that choice.”


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