Nicola Sturgeon has warned that the UK’s “collision course” with the European Union is creating “damaging uncertainty” and putting Scottish jobs at risk.
In a speech in Dublin to the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, she said Scotland benefited from being part of Europe, and that the EU had created and safeguarded some 64,000 Scottish jobs in the past ten years.
She argued that if Scotland was an independent member state, it would be much better placed to protect the national interest.
The Deputy First Minister spoke out following David Cameron’s promise of an in-out referendum on Britain’s EU membership some time after 2015 if the Tories win that year’s election.
But Labour said she showed “incredible hypocrisy”, given she was part of a government that has delayed the independence referendum to 2014.
At yesterday’s event in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, Ms Sturgeon underlined her view that it was “overwhelmingly” in the interests of an independent Scotland to be in the EU.
She said: “We are in no doubt that the single EU market continues to be, as it has been in the past, a driver of economic recovery, growth and jobs going forward.
“In recent days, it has become clear that the UK government could be on a collision course with the EU over the terms of her membership, and it is no longer fanciful to consider as real the possibility that the UK is heading out of the EU. Let me state emphatically that this is not a journey that the Scottish Government wishes Scotland to be a part of, nor one that I believe would be supported across the Scottish business community or wider civic society.
“But it is a position that brings with it considerable uncertainty and one that could damage Scotland’s EU interests and influence, and deter foreign investors from investing in our economy.”
It was, she added, “a misguided policy that threatens tens of thousands of jobs in Scotland”.
But her attempt to put the economic case for independence within the EU was dealt a blow when Ireland’s European affairs minister, Lucinda Creighton, said an independent Scotland would have to apply for EU membership, saying there were “legal constraints”.
She said: “If Scotland were to become independent, Scotland would have to apply for membership and that can be a lengthy process, as we see even with the very advanced and well-integrated countries like Iceland, where I’ve just come from.”
Labour MSP James Kelly said: “This is deeply embarrassing for Nicola Sturgeon on her away day to Dublin.”
Patricia Ferguson, Scottish Labour’s constitutional spokeswoman, said: “Nicola Sturgeon is showing incredible hypocrisy by claiming a referendum on Europe is causing uncertainty when she makes Scots wait three years to have their say on staying in the UK.
“How can threatening to leave one union – the UK – be good for Scottish investment, as Alex Salmond has repeatedly claimed, but holding a referendum on Europe creates uncertainty? Her lack of self-awareness is astonishing.
“The SNP cannot even guarantee if a separate Scotland would be a member of the EU.”