Sturgeon to seek second independence vote for Scotland
Nicola Sturgeon has announced plans to hold a second independence referendum, insisting a ballot on leaving the UK is necessary to allow Scotland to choose its own course and avoid a hard-line Tory Brexit.
The First Minister confirmed she is to seek the approval of MSPs at Holyrood next week to start negotiations with the UK Government on a deal that would allow a legally binding ballot to be held.
That could see a second independence vote take place as early as autumn 2018 - just four years on from when Scots voted by 55% to 45% to stay part of the United Kingdom.
It comes after nearly two-thirds (62%) of Scots opted to stay in the European Union in June 2016, but the UK as a whole voted for Brexit.
Within hours of that result being known, the SNP leader said another referendum was "highly likely".
Speaking at her official residence, Bute House in Edinburgh, the First Minister said: "I will now take the steps necessary 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."
Ms Sturgeon said she would go to Holyrood next week and "seek the authority of the Scottish Parliament to agree with the UK Government the details of a Section 30 order - the procedure that will enable the Scottish Parliament to legislate for an independence referendum".
She stated: "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, 2018, and the spring of 2019."
A UK Government spokesman argued a second Scottish independence referendum would be "divisive and cause huge economic uncertainty at the worst possible time".
He said: "The Scottish Government should focus on delivering good government and public services for the people in Scotland."
The spokesman insisted: "As the Prime Minister has set out, the UK Government seeks a future partnership with the EU that works for the whole of the United Kingdom. The UK Government will negotiate that agreement, but we will do so taking into account the interests of all of the nations of the UK."
"We have been working closely with all the devolved administrations - listening to their proposals, and recognising the many areas of common ground, including workers' rights, the status of EU citizens living in the UK and our security from crime and terrorism."
"Only a little over two years ago people in Scotland voted decisively to remain part of our United Kingdom in a referendum which the Scottish Government defined as a 'once in a generation' vote. The evidence clearly shows that a majority of people in Scotland do not want a second independence referendum. Another referendum would be divisive and cause huge economic uncertainty at the worst possible time."
A poll by BMG for The Herald newspaper showed about four in 10 Scots support another vote on independence before Brexit happens.
It suggested that voters are split 52-48 in favour of remaining in the Union.
Meanwhile, an Ipsos Mori poll for STV News that was published just four days ago indicated those who were certain to take part in a second independence ballot were divided 50-50.
In December 2016, the First Minister put forward a series of "compromise" proposals on Europe, which would see Scotland stay in the single market when the UK exits the EU, and new powers going to Holyrood as a result of Brexit.
But these have been met with a "brick wall of intransigence" from the UK Government, Ms Sturgeon said.
She hit out at Prime Minister Theresa May, saying: "UK membership of the single market was ruled out with no prior consultation with the Scottish Government, or indeed with the other devolved administrations - leaving us facing not just Brexit, but a hard Brexit."
"There has been talk of special deals for the car industry and others but a point blank refusal to discuss in any meaningful way a differential approach for Scotland."
"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."
Ms Sturgeon added: "There should be little doubt about this - 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."
Leaving the EU would impact on jobs and the economy north of the border, as well as how "open, welcoming, diverse and fair" Scotland would be in the future, the First Minister said.
She also said there were implications for democracy, questioning "to what extent will we be able to determine our own direction of travel, rather than having that decided for us?"
The First Minister said: "In short, it is not just our relationship with Europe that is at stake."
"What is at stake is the kind of country we will become."
"Now at times of change and uncertainty, the instinct to do nothing and just hope for the best is understandable. But, in my view, it is not the right one."
"At times like these, it is more important than ever to have a clear plan for the way ahead - to try, as far as is possible, to be in control of events and not just at the mercy of them."
She stated: "Right now, Scotland stands at a hugely important crossroads."
"We didn't choose to be in this position. In common with most people across the country, I wish that we weren't in this position. But we are and the stakes are high."
Ms Sturgeon's announcement prompted anger from the leaders of the pro-Union parties at Holyrood.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the SNP leader had "given up acting as First Minister for all of Scotland".
Ms Davidson said: "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."
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."
She added: "The reality is that leaving the UK would mean turbo-charged austerity for Scotland, putting the future of our schools and hospitals at risk."
"Scotland deserves better than this. Nicola Sturgeon's government is presiding over an education system with a growing gap between the richest and the rest, a health service that doesn't have enough doctors and nurses, and an economy which sees more than 220,000 Scottish children live in poverty."
"Scotland would be a better place if the First Minister stopped dividing the country and started actually governing the country."
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "The First Minister refused to state that Scotland would be a full EU member under her plan.The SNP have airbrushed membership of the EU from their independence plans. That will let down all those who support the EU.
"That is the worst possible result for jobs, trade and security."
But Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the pro-independence Scottish Green Party, said: "The Greens welcome the Scottish Parliament's consent being sought for a Section 30 order on an independence referendum and we will support it. Scotland's votes and our voice have been ignored by a Tory government at Westminster which we did not vote for and a feeble Labour opposition. The people of Scotland deserve a choice between hard Brexit Britain and putting our own future in our own hands."