Nicola Sturgeon has warned the UK is no longer a “safe harbour” for Scotland as she stepped up her push for a second independence referendum following the Brexit vote.
The SNP leader hinted that legislation for a second referendum will be unveiled inside a fortnight, but it came as the “perilous” state of Scotland’s public finances are to be unveiled this morning. The Government Expenditure and Revenues in Scotland (GERS) report for 2016-17 is expected to show Scotland’s £15 billion deficit from last year has grown again as the oil crash continues to bite.
The Scottish Government published figures yesterday which suggest that the impact of Brexit on Scotland’s struggling economy will be up to £11bn as the cost of trade tariffs and other costs to leaving the European Union add up.
“The argument that the UK is somehow a safe harbour for Scotland is no longer true,” Ms Sturgeon said.
Ms Sturgeon insisted yesterday that the figures show “nothing new” and insisted she still believes a second referendum on leaving the UK is highly likely after publishing the first in a series of Scottish Government papers setting out the impact of Brexit on a range of sectors.
It estimated that by 2030 the cost to Scotland’s economy of leaving the Brussels bloc will range from £1.7bn to £11.2bn a year. The cost to the country’s public finances as tax revenues fall could be £1.7-£3.7bn a year.
“Whatever the final form of Brexit, whatever ‘Brexit means Brexit’ turns out to actually mean in practice, the old argument that the UK somehow delivers financial security for Scotland no longer holds water.
“Brexit will be deeply damaging to Scotland’s economy and to our finances. This assessment also underlines the importance of doing everything we can to protect our place in Europe and especially our membership of the single market. I said on the morning after the referendum that we would pursue all options including the option of independence to achieve and that remains the case.”
Ms Sturgeon is to appoint a new minister who will lead for the Scottish Government in Brexit talks with the UK government and a new Scottish cabinet Brexit sub committee will also be established.
She has pledged to play a “full and active” role in talks with the Westminster government over Brexit, but stressed her five tests for protecting Scotland’s place in Europe, including free movement, membership of the single market and employment rights.
She warned: “If it turns out simply not to be possible to protect Scotland’s interests through the UK, it must be open to the Scottish people to consider afresh, and in this very different context, the question of independence.”
A UK government spokesman said the Scottish Government figures “vary wildly”. He added: “The real uncertainty for Scotland’s economy is being caused by Nicola Sturgeon’s talk of a second independence referendum. The Scottish Government’s priority should be to work closely with the UK government to ensure the best deal for Scotland. Rather than open itself to accusations of scaremongering and of damaging the Scottish economy, the Scottish Government’s priority should be to work closely with the UK Government to ensure the best deal for Scotland and the whole of the UK as we prepare to leave the EU.”
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said publication of the GERS figures will set out the benefit that Scotland gets from the pooling and sharing of resources across the UK.
Ms Dugdale said: “Labour gave Nicola Sturgeon our full support to negotiate with the UK government and EU institutions to find the best deal for the people of Scotland. Two mandates have to be respected – people voted in overwhelming numbers to maintain our relationship with both the EU and the UK. Delivering an outcome that achieves that is vital.”
Alastair Cameron, director of the pro-UK Scotland in Union campaign said the GERS figures will set out the perilous state of Scotland’s public finances.
“Rather than face up to this challenge, the First Minister has instead reverted to the 2014 referendum playbook by deflecting and obscuring the numbers,” he added.