Nicola Sturgeon said she would have “immediate discussions” with Brussels to protect Scotland’s place in the EU as the UK came under increasing pressure to make a swift exit from the trading and political bloc.
The First Minister will lobby member states in order to win support for her attempts to keep Scotland within the EU and will host a summit for Scottish-based EU diplomats within the next fortnight.
An expert panel is also to be appointed from a variety of political backgrounds to advise on maintaining Scotland’s relationship with the EU as her ministers formally endorsed plans for a second independence referendum.
At an emergency meeting of her cabinet, ministers agreed to press ahead with moves to ensure legislation is in place that would enable indyref 2 to be held within the next couple of years. It met against a background of increasing economic uncertainty caused by the 52 per cent to 48 per cent vote to leave recorded across the UK in Thursday’s referendum.
Although the UK as a whole voted to leave, Scotland, along with Northern Ireland and London, wanted to stay. Scotland voted comfortably by a margin of 62 per cent to 38 per cent in favour of EU membership.
In a statement delivered on the steps of Bute House, Sturgeon sought to reassure people that Scotland was a “stable and attractive” place to do business as she considered the economic implications of Brexit.
The fall-out from the referendum saw the credit ratings agency Moody’s downgrade the UK from stable to negative and warn that economic growth would become weaker.
With the UK government still reeling from the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, politicians from EU countries said there should be no delay in negotiating the UK’s departure.
Cameron has suggested his successor should lead discussions after he steps down in October. But yesterday German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said negotiations should begin “as soon as possible” following an urgent meeting of the six EU founder members.
After the Scottish cabinet met, Sturgeon said: “Cabinet agreed that we will seek to enter into immediate discussions with the EU institutions and with other EU member states to explore all possible options to protect Scotland’s place in the EU.
“In doing so, we are determined to draw on as much support and advice from across Scotland as possible and I can confirm today that over the next few days I will establish an advisory panel comprising a range of experts who can advise me and the Scottish government on a number of important matters – legal, financial and diplomatic.
“It will also seek to encompass voices from across the political spectrum in Scotland and indeed different views on Scotland’s constitutional future.”
On the prospect of another independence referendum Sturgeon said it was “very much on the table” although she declined to guarantee that one would definitely take place.
The most obvious way that Scotland could remain in the EU would be for Sturgeon to win a Yes vote in a second independence poll before the UK officially leaves in two years’ time.
Although there is likely to be a substantial uplift in support for independence following the Brexit vote, indyref 2 still presents a big risk. A second No vote would kill off the SNP’s dream by effectively settling the issue.
Another approach that could be part of Sturgeon’s discussions is based on the Danish example. The Danish Realm is a union of three countries: Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Only Denmark, however, is in the EU. There are some who say that arrangement could offer a model for Scotland to follow. But there would be many legal hurdles to overcome.
Immediately after the Brexit vote Sturgeon said it was “highly likely” there would be another independence referendum. She also said Scotland should have the option of holding it before the UK leaves the EU – a process that will take two years under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
The First Minister said she wanted to reassure EU citizens who lived in Scotland that they remained welcome here.
“To that end, I will be inviting the consuls general of all EU member states to a summit here in Bute House over the next two weeks to discuss how we engage with their communities here and make clear how highly we value the contribution that they make to Scotland’s economy, to our society and to our culture,” said the First Minister.
She also attempted to draw a contrast between the rudderless UK government by promising that the Scottish Government would continue to concentrate on domestic issues.
“We will not be taking our eye off the ball of the day-to-day business of government,” said the First Minister. “As Westminster is engulfed in political turmoil and as a vacuum of leadership develops, I want to make clear that Scotland is led by a stable and effective government.
“We are focused on making sure that Scotland’s interests are protected.”
Yesterday the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, indicated that her party would work constructively with Sturgeon’s new advisory panel and was keen to propose suitably qualified people to work with the group.
But Davidson also warned against going for another independence referendum.
“What we need now is Scotland’s two governments working together to ensure stability,” said Davidson.
“The SNP agitating for an independence referendum rerun will do precisely the opposite. The priority should be stabilising the economy, reassuring Scotland’s businesses and protecting jobs, not promising a further layer of economic upheaval.”
Sturgeon will make a statement at Holyrood on the situation on Tuesday. The Lib Dems have called for two days of debate to be set aside next week so MSPs can discuss the outcome of Thursday’s vote.
The Lib Dem leader, Willie Rennie, has offered his party’s support to Sturgeon’s EU negotiation process. Rennie said: “I sought guarantees from her that she was not simply devising a process that was set to fail. If this was simply to be a charade devised to build up grievance in Scotland to aid the campaign for independence, it would not have received our support. I will not be a pawn in a new campaign for independence.
“However, I was given a guarantee from the First Minister that this was not the case and that she genuinely wanted this process to succeed. That is why we will lend our support to this process as it will need a cross-party effort to have the best chance of succeeding.”