Nicola Sturgeon has fired the starting gun for a fresh referendum, saying Scotland should have the choice of whether to follow the UK out of the European Union or become an independent country.
The First Minister will ask the Scottish Parliament next week to give her the authority to agree a Section 30 order with the UK government, transferring the power to hold a referendum to Holyrood.
In a Bute House press conference yesterday, she said the vote could be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.
She said: “It is important that Scotland is able to exercise the right to choose our own future at a time when the options are clearer than they are now – but before it is too late to decide our own path.”
Her announcement was met with fury from pro-Union politicians, including Prime Minister Theresa May, who accused the SNP leader of setting Scotland towards more uncertainty and division.
But Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government had worked hard in pursuit of a compromise agreement with UK ministers on Brexit which would recognise Scotland’s voting in favour of staying in the EU, but had been met with a “brick wall of intransigence”.
• READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon’s speech in full
She said there had been talk of special deals for the car industry and others, but a “point blank refusal” to discuss a different approach for Scotland.
And she added: “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. That cannot be a secure basis on which to build a better Scotland.”
Ms Sturgeon said Brexit had made change inevitable.
She said: “Having Scotland’s referendum, at a time when the terms of Brexit are known, will give the Scottish people a choice about the kind of change we want.”
Campaigning was already under way last night with an SNP-backed fundraising website recording donations of more than £135,000.
Ms Sturgeon’s move for a second independence referendum took Westminster by surprise, coming on the day MPs and peers were engaged in the final stages of the legislation which will allow Mrs May to trigger Article 50, giving the EU formal notice of the UK’s intention to leave.
Mrs May accused the SNP of “tunnel vision” and said of the referendum call: “It sets Scotland on course for more uncertainty and division.”
But it could be politically difficult for the UK government to refuse a request from the Scottish Parliament for a Section 30 order to allow a referendum to take place.
Ms Sturgeon said: “We set the precedent in 2014 that the details of an independence referendum should be for the people of Scotland to decide – that’s the principled argument. The practical reason is this: it’s really important that before people in Scotland are asked to make this choice they have clarity about what Brexit means, but equally if we are to have a genuine choice with the ability to choose a different course we cannot leave that choice until it’s too late for that to happen.
“For the UK government to say they are not going to allow that to happen in that window … It would be tantamount to the UK government, having sunk the ship with the Brexit vote, trying to puncture Scotland’s lifeboat as well – and I don’t think that would be an acceptable position for them to take.”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said Ms Sturgeon’s announcement was “utterly irresponsible”.
“Nicola Sturgeon has today given up acting as First Minister for all of Scotland,” Ms Davidson said. “People have said time and again they do not want to go back to the division of a second referendum.
“She has ignored the majority in Scotland who do not want a referendum and has decided instead to double down on division and uncertainty.”
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “We do not want to be divided again, but that is exactly what another independence referendum would do.
“Two years ago, 85 per cent of Scotland’s voters took part in the independence referendum and the result was a clear vote to remain in the UK.”