‘There WILL be a second referendum’
Sturgeon’s vow to the Scottish people
First Minister lays down the law to May: ‘The days when the Tories could do anything they wanted to Scotland are gone’
NICOLA Sturgeon has vowed “there will be an independence referendum” regardless of any attempt by the Tories at Westminster to block a vote. The First Minister made clear her position in her speech to the SNP conference yesterday at the end of one of the most dramatic weeks of the devolution era, as she set out plans for a referendum between autumn 2018 and spring 2019. In a stark warning to Theresa May, Sturgeon maintained the wishes of Holyrood “must and will prevail” over a new independence referendum.
The Scottish Parliament is to debate calling for permission for a vote on Tuesday and Wednesday, which the SNP Government is likely to win with the backing of the Greens.
In a hardening of the battle lines, Sturgeon said that majority support would make any demands for a referendum the “will of the democratically elected Parliament of Scotland”.
Sturgeon said her decision to call a referendum would “put the people in charge” rather than “an increasingly right-wing, Brexit-obsessed Tory government”.
But Sturgeon also used the speech to offer the Prime Minister a possible compromise over the timing of a referendum. “If her concern is timing then, within reason, I am happy to have that discussion,” she said.
She continued: “Of course, the Tories’ reluctance to allow Scotland a choice is not hard to fathom. They are now terrified of the verdict of the Scottish people.”
Sturgeon said she wanted to ensure that “Scotland’s future will be in Scotland’s hands”.
The First Minister also promised to win over undecideds and those who are “feeling nervous and anxious” by addressing difficult questions about the case for independence.
“After the terms of Brexit are clear but while there is still an opportunity to change course, the people of Scotland will have a choice. There will be an independence referendum.
“But I also know that for every one of us who is full of excitement and anticipation, there will be someone else feeling nervous and anxious, perhaps even resentful.”
Sturgeon insisted that May’s “brick wall of intransigence” had forced her into seeking a referendum. She said May’s government had rejected her proposals to keep Scotland in the single market.
The First Minister said: “I did not reach the decision lightly. Indeed, for months, I have strived to find compromise and agreement with the Prime Minister. Despite our overwhelming vote for Remain, the Scottish Government accepted that Scotland, within the UK, would leave the EU – but that we should seek to retain our place in the single market.
“We proposed substantial new powers for the Scottish Parliament – short of independence – that would help protect Scotland’s interests in a post-Brexit UK. But instead of meeting us halfway or, frankly, any of the way, Westminster chose to dig its heels in.”
Sturgeon added: “So as Article 50 is about to be triggered, let me say this to the Prime Minister: stop putting the interests of the right wing of your own party ahead of the interests of the people of our country. For me, though, the Prime Minister’s refusal to budge an inch meant that I had to make a decision. I could take the easy option.
“I could let Scotland drift through the next two years, hoping for the best, but knowing that the worst is far more likely ... Waiting for the chance to say I told you so ... Knowing that by then it might be too late to avoid the damage of a hard Brexit. Or I could make a plan now to put the Scottish people in charge of our own future. I choose to put the people in charge.”
Sturgeon also warned May of the ramifications of blocking a Holyrood vote for a second referendum, saying: “If a majority in the Scottish Parliament endorses that position, the Prime Minister should be clear about this. At that point a fair, legal and agreed referendum – on a timescale that will allow Scotland an informed choice – ceases to be just my proposal, or that of the SNP.
“It becomes the will of the democratically elected Parliament of Scotland. To stand in defiance of that 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.”
Sturgeon claimed May’s opposition to a referendum was motivated by a wish to return to the pre-devolution Tory-dominated era of direct rule from Westminster.
“They clearly long for the days before
we had a Scottish Parliament,” Sturgeon said. “The days when Tory governments could do anything they wanted to Scotland, no matter how often they were rejected by the voters ... The days when they could impose the poll tax, destroy Scottish industry and deny all demands for constitutional change ... Well, the Prime Minister should understand this point. And understand it well. Those days are gone and they are not coming back.”
Sturgeon also made an audacious plea to English voters who oppose a hard Brexit to come and live in an independent Scotland.
She said: “If you are as appalled as we are at the path this Westminster Government is taking, come and join us. Come here to live, work, invest or study. Come to Scotland – and be part of building a modern, progressive, outward-looking, compassionate country.”
Earlier yesterday, former prime minister Gordon Brown set out a “third option” for Scotland’s future, based on more powers being transferred to Holyrood after Brexit.
He said a new form of federal home rule was needed to unite the country and avoid years of “bitter division”.
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw MSP said: “This is the week that Nicola Sturgeon gave up being First Minister and instead put her obsession with independence before the day job.”
FRONT COVER DESIGN: ALLYSON SHIELDS
In a stark warning to Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon maintained the wishes of Holyrood ‘must and will prevail’ over a new independence referendum