Nicola Sturgeon was accused of a “deceitful proposition” in seeking a second independence referendum while a majority of Scots oppose it as she came under fresh pressure from opponents yesterday over the constitutional impasse.
The First Minister said she still was not clear about what currency Scotland would use and admitted that the country would be likely to be left outside the UK and European Union during a “transition” period as she seeks to rejoin the Brussels bloc.
But she warned that blocking a second referendum until “long, long” after Brexit would be unacceptable, after Prime Minister Theresa May last week rejected SNP calls for a vote to be staged in the next two years.
Senior Nationalists emerged from the party’s spring conference in Aberdeen at the weekend insisting that a second referendum will be held, with only the timing yet to be resolved.
The Scottish Parliament is this week expected to vote in favour of demands for a Section 30 Order from Westminster, which would be needed for Holyrood to hold a legally-binding ballot. But pro-Union parties in Scotland insist there is no support for such a move, after a poll showed a slight dip in support for independence.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson insisted that the SNP is “hell bent” on destroying the United Kingdom and described Brexit as “this week’s excuse” for another independence referendum.
Ms Davidson said: “The SNP is not Scotland and they are acting against the majority wishes of the people of Scotland in putting forward their proposition on Monday.
“I’ve read far too many headlines saying, ‘Scotland reacts X, Scotland reacts Y’. No, it doesn’t.
“There are people right across Scotland, many, many thousands of them, that are so thankful for the Prime Minister to say, let’s take a pause on this.”
The Tory leader insisted there are still unanswered questions over the currency Scotland would use and whether it could rejoin the EU as a full member after independence.
“You’ve got the foreign minister of Spain saying we might not get back into Europe, you get the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, saying she might not even pursue that as her first course option, her immediate option.
“And her other option – to join EFTA [European Free Trade Association] – you’ve got the foreign minister of Iceland saying that’s not on the cards either.
“So you’ve got this ridiculous, I think deceitful proposition from Nicola Sturgeon. She’s saying to the people of Scotland, we must drag you back to a place you don’t want to go, to answer a question that you’ve already answered, I just didn’t like that answer, on the grounds of leaving Europe – which we’re going to do anyway, and we might not even go back in.”
The First Minister insisted yesterday that she remained to committed to rejoining the EU after independence, but indicated it may not happen immediately. Scotland is facing “changed circumstances” from 2014 when the SNP claimed the country would automatically remain in the EU after a Yes vote.
She said: “We have to set out very clearly to the people of Scotland, before asking them to make this choice, the route and the process that we would take to transition from where we are now to being in a relationship with Europe that was right for Scotland.”
Ms Sturgeon admitted that she did not know yet which currency an independent Scotland would use. Keeping the pound was described as the “starting point” but a Growth Commission being headed by former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson is expected to set out alternatives to this when it reports later in the year.
Pressed on whether Scotland could afford to become an independent country with a £15 billion deficit, she said: “Perhaps some people would look at that and say could Scotland afford not to be, because that deficit … is one that has been created on, to use shorthand, ‘Westminster’s Watch’.
“That’s not a feature of life in an independent Scotland – that’s what happened with Scotland as part of the UK.”
Ms Sturgeon insists that Brexit, which saw a majority of Scots vote to Remain in the EU, while votes south of the Border swung the outcome in favour of Leave, gives her a mandate for another referendum. Such a scenario was in the SNP’s manifesto in last year’s Holyrood election.
But the party lost its Holyrood majority in that election and there has been little polling evidence to suggest that Brexit has driven up support for independence.
And after the Prime Minister ruled out Ms Sturgeon’s call for a referendum in autumn 2018 or spring 2019, the SNP leader said there may be “room for discussions” about a date slightly later in 2019.
However, asked whether a date in 2021 would be reasonable, she replied: “I don’t think that is reasonable because by that point Scotland has been taken out of the EU, two years have elapsed, presumably there is divergence opening up between the rules of the European Union, the single market and where the UK is going, and I think it then gets much harder for Scotland to take a different course.
“But if she’s talking in the spring of 2019, a bit later perhaps than I was suggesting, then there may be some room for discussions around that.
“I’m up for a discussion within reason, but this is not a timetable that should be determined by what is convenient for Theresa May.”
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “The majority of Scots don’t want another independence referendum, that’s clear from the opinion polls.
“It’s also clear that they don’t want independence from the vote that we had just two-and-a-half years ago.”
Scottish Labour economy spokeswoman Jackie Baillie MSP said: “The people of Scotland deserve some answers from Nicola Sturgeon. She is the person threatening a second independence referendum, yet she refuses to give voters the clarity they need.
“Last week John Swinney refused six times in a radio interview to answer the basic question about currency, Joanna Cherry was left floundering when asked the question on TV, and Stewart Hosie has signalled that the SNP wants to ditch the pound.
“Yet now we have Nicola Sturgeon causing even more confusion. It’s quite clear that nobody in the party has a clue what would happen. Voters deserve better than that.”
Ms Dugdale insisted there won’t be a “clear choice” for Scottish voters if a second referendum is held before the outcome of Brexit is clear.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the case of independence is increasingly “feeble”.
He added: “The First Minister can’t use the EU to claim a mandate when her referendum won’t take us back in.
“It shows that the EU was just an excuse and that it has only ever been about independence for the SNP.
“Nicola Sturgeon is using EU supporters to get a referendum but will sell them out to get independence.”