‘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.”


Pho­to­graph: An­drew Milligan/PA Wire

In a stark warn­ing to Theresa May, Ni­cola Stur­geon main­tained the wishes of Holy­rood ‘must and will pre­vail’ over a new in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum

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