Nicola Sturgeon seeks indyref2 before 2021, while holding out further devolution olive branch to opponents

The first minister today laid out plans to pursue primary legislation on a second independence referendum, establish a Citizen’s Assembly, and consider proposals from opposition parties for enhancing Scottish devolution

  • Legislation detailing plans for a second referendum to be introduced in Holyrood this year, with a section 30 order to be pursued later
  • While inviting other parties to put forward plans for enhanced devolution, Nicola Sturgeon expresses scepticism over proposals for federalism
  • Jackson Carlaw and Richard Leonard accuse the first minister of making the announcement with an eye on the upcoming SNP conference
  • Announcement follows reports from Whitehall sources that any attempt to hold a second referendum will be blocked
  • Announcement welcomed by Catalan president Quim Torra, who offers support in securing a second vote on Scottish independence

FIRST MINISTER Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed her intention to pursue a second referendum on Scottish independence before 2021 if Scotland is taken out of the European Union against its will, while challenging unionist parties to present their own proposals for enhancing devolution and reforming a “broken status quo”.

In a statement before the Scottish Parliament chamber, Sturgeon announced that the Scottish Government will this year introduce “framework” legislation within the current parliamentary session on a new plebiscite, to take place before the next Holyrood elections.

While this would be within the power of the Scottish Parliament, Sturgeon acknowledged that an actual vote would require the agreement of the UK Government, but that she wouldn’t pursue a section 30 order with the prime minister until the legislation for it had passed and the time was right to hold it.

In the face of unified opposition to a second independence referendum from unionist parties in the chamber, Sturgeon challenged all in the chamber to bring forward alternative proposals for introducing new powers to Scotland or reforming the devolution settlement, arguing that the present system had been proven unworkable by the Brexit process and that she was “open-minded” about finding consensus on new devolved powers.

Sturgeon further confirmed that her government would seek to establish a Citizen’s Assembly, which aims to include a representative cross-section of Scottish society under an independent chair, in order to “seek views on how best to equip Scotland’s Parliament for the challenges of the future, in light of Brexit.”

“The Westminster system of government does not serve Scotland’s interests, and the devolution settlement, in its current form, is now seen to be utterly inadequate to the task of protecting those interests.” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Sturgeon said: “There is, surely, one point of clarity that has emerged over the last three years - even for the most ardent opponent of Scottish independence: The Westminster system of government does not serve Scotland’s interests, and the devolution settlement, in its current form, is now seen to be utterly inadequate to the task of protecting those interests. In other words, the status quo is broken.”

Reiterating the Scottish Government’s repeated objections to Brexit’s impact on Scotland – Scotland’s vote to Remain in the EU, the UK Government’s disregard for the Scottish Parliament’s emergency Continuity Bill, the predicted economic impact of Brexit upon Scotland and the seizure of returning EU powers by Westminster – Sturgeon went on: “Brexit has exposed a deep democratic deficit at the heart of how Scotland is governed. 

“And whatever our different views on independence, it should persuade all of us that we need a more solid foundation on which to build our future as a country.

“With all of our assets and talents, Scotland should be a thriving and driving force within Europe. Instead we face being forced to the margins - sidelined within a UK that is, itself, increasingly sidelined on the international stage. Independence, by contrast, would allow us to protect our place in Europe.”

Sturgeon continued: “It is now time for this parliament, for all parties represented here, to take charge.

“The immediate opportunity we now have is to help stop Brexit for the whole UK – and we should seize that opportunity. But if that cannot be achieved, dealing with the consequences of Brexit and facing up to its challenges will be unavoidable.

“I believe that the case for independence is stronger than ever. And I will make that case.” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

“I believe that the case for independence is stronger than ever. And I will make that case. But I know others take a different view. So, as we take the necessary legislative steps over the next few months, I will also seek to open up space for us to come together and find areas of agreement as mature politicians should.

“We have seen in Westminster what happens when parties fail to work together – when leaders take a ‘my way or the high way’ approach and when so many red lines and inflexible preconditions are set that progress becomes impossible. 

“Twenty years on from the establishment of this Parliament, I believe we can do better. Brexit makes change for Scotland inevitable.

“This place was established with the hope that it would be a new type of parliament. We can show that we are able to put the interests of the people first.

“So if others across this chamber are willing to move forward in that spirit, they will find in me an equally willing partner.

“But if all they have to offer the people of Scotland is a failed and damaging status quo, then the process of change will pass them by and support for independence will grow.”

READ MORE: ‘The people of Scotland need clarity’: Harvie presses Sturgeon on indyref2 timing

Sturgeon’s statement drew condemnation from the Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats, but was welcomed by the pro-independence Scottish Greens, whose co-convener Patrick Harvie MSP last month called upon the first minister to provide “clarity” on the timing of a second referendum.

Speaking on behalf of the Scottish Tories – who failed yesterday in an attempt to block Sturgeon’s statement taking place – MSP Jackson Carlaw described her remarks as “inherently divisive”, describing them as “a dark cloud over Scotland’s sunny Spring”, and attributed their timing to the upcoming SNP conference in Edinburgh this weekend.

Responding to Carlaw’s claim that “Scotland has had enough of constitutional politics”, Sturgeon characterised Carlaw’s remarks as a means of telling the nation: “Wheesht.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard also accused the first minister of suspect timing, saying: “Nicola Sturgeon is using her office as First Minister to put the interests of the SNP before the interests of our country.

“Her statement today is not about Brexit, this is about Nicola Sturgeon trying to pacify her party members and back benchers ahead of the SNP’s conference.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie – whose party had previously called on the first minister to use her statement as an opportunity to take independence off the table – echoed Carlaw’s disdain for further constitutional debate, asking: “Will she just make it stop?”

READ MORE: Material change of circumstances for indyref2 “has already happened”, Patrick Harvie tells #SGPConf

Sturgeon in turn accused the Liberal Democrats of hypocrisy for supporting a People’s Vote on EU membership, but opposing a second independence referendum.

Despite indicating her openness to alternative plans for democratic reform, Sturgeon signalled her scepticism of Lib Dem proposals for a federal system, saying: “Federalism has been getting talked about in the UK for a hundred years and more,” but no UK Government had ever taken steps to introduce it.

Welcoming the first minister’s announcement, Scottish Greens Parliamentary co-Leader Alison Johnstone said this afternoon: “Support for independence grew over the course of the last referendum in part due to the breadth of inspiring, positive visions of what our nation could be. The vision currently being considered by the SNP looks more like the failed economic model of the UK, a vision which has led to cuts to public services and increasing child poverty, than the bold vision for independence the Greens campaigned for and believed in.

“The First Minister also announced the establishment of a citizen’s assembly. We welcome this move, but this body cannot simply be a talking shop. We will put pressure on the Scottish Government to ensure that this body is listened to and shapes government policy.”

While taking questions from MSPs in the aftermath of her statement, Sturgeon emphasised her conciliatory hopes – citing the cross-party consensus in Holyrood which preceded the 2012 Edinburgh Agreement – but was unapologetic about her desire to present the people of Scotland with the question for independence, asking the unionist parties: “Why are you so scared?”

READ MORE: Interview: Scotland’s referendum experience has provided a template for the Irish Left, says MLA Gerry Carroll

Prior to Sturgeon’s announcement, the office of Prime Minister Theresa May told press that Westminster has “bigger things to deal with” than Scottish independence, while multiple Whitehall sources were reported as saying any attempt to hold another referendum would be quickly blocked.

However, commenting in the aftermath of the first minister’s statement, SNP MP for Dundee East Stewart Hosie argued: "The Scottish Government was elected on a mandate to hold an independence referendum if there was a 'significant material change in circumstances in the Union' which there was.

"Polls have consistently shown that the people of Scotland, unsurprisingly, prefer independence over any form of Brexit. The Brexit chaos has outlined exactly why Scotland should be independent - because the decisions that affect the people of Scotland should be made by the people who live and work here."

Internationally, Sturgeon’s plans for a second independence referendum were welcomed by Catalan President Quim Torra. According to the Scottish journalist and author Lesley Riddoch, Torra commented that he shares the first minister’s determination to gain independence for her country, and says that if she needs support from Catalonia in securing another vote, “she knows she has it.”

Picture courtesy of fw42

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