Nicola Sturgeon: Scottish independence may offer ‘greatest stability’ post-Brexit

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA
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Independence may offer most “certainty and stability” for Scotland after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union despite the “challenges and opportunities” it would bring, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

{{|In a keynote speech in Edinburgh|Link to article} a one month after the EU referendum vote, the First Minister warned the UK is heading for a “hard Brexit” which will leave it frozen out of the EU single market and with major restrictions to freedom of movement.

Our interest in having influence - making sure that we don’t just have to abide by the rules of the single market but also have a say in shaping them.

Nicola Sturgeon

Her warning came as her predecessor Alex Salmond yesterday set out a two-and-a-half year timetable for a second referendum if a deal cannot be reached to secure Scotland’s EU status as part of the UK.

Ms Sturgeon voiced her concerns in an address to business leaders, charities and public sector organisations at an event hosted by the IPPR Scotland think-tank.

She hit out at the failure to prepare at Westminster for a Leave vote as one of the most “shameful abdications of responsibility” in modern political history.

• READ MORE: Leaders: Problems at home must be priority over EU dream

Although the UK as a whole voted to leave the EU last month, almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of Scottish voters backed remain – a result which immediately prompted Ms Sturgeon to say a second Scottish independence referendum is now “highly likely”.

The Scottish Government has been exploring options to retain the country’s links with Europe, but Ms Sturgeon said there are “substantial” barriers towards achieving this as part of the UK’s Brexit deal.

This could leave independence as the only means to preserve Scotland’s key economic and social interests inside the EU, she said, after the turmoil in prices and markets since the Brexit vote.

Ms Sturgeon added: “I don’t pretend that the option of independence would be straightforward.

“It would bring its own challenges - as well as opportunities. But consider this. The UK that we voted to stay part of in 2014 – a UK within the EU – is fundamentally changing. The outlook for the UK is uncertainty, upheaval and unpredictability.

“In these circumstances, it may well be that the option that offers us the greatest certainty, stability and the maximum control over our own destiny, is that of independence.”

In her speech, Ms Sturgeon set out the five key interests she will try to protect during negotiations with the UK government before the triggering of Article 50 – the formal mechanism to leave the EU.

• READ MORE: Scotland on brink of independence, claims Angus Robertson

These are “the need to make sure Scotland’s voice is heard and our wishes respected”, free movement of labour and access to the single market, protection of workers’ rights and wider human rights, the ability to work with other nations to tackle issues such as terrorism and climate change, and having a say in the rules of the single market.

Even if free movement is maintained in Scotland, but restricted in the rest of the UK, Ms Sturgeon insisted there would be no need for border checks. The First Minister pointed to Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to Northern Ireland yesterday as part of efforts to avoid a border with the Republic which left “no reason” why a similar arrangement couldn’t be reached with Scotland.

Mr Salmond said yesterday that a second referendum would have to take place “within the Brexit timetable”.

He added: “The Article 50 timetable is probably six months before the invocation of Article 50 and then two years of negotiations. You’re talking about an independence referendum within that period of time.”

But Ms Sturgeon came under fire from opposition leaders in Scotland who claimed her five tests were a “ruse” to push for Scottish independence.

• READ MORE: Brian Monteith: Davidson and Dugdale can show Sturgeon is wrong

Scottish Conservative finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “Nicola Sturgeon talks about five tests – but the truth is there’s only ever one test 
for the SNP, and that’s separation.

“She is setting these up to fail to provide another flimsy excuse for a referendum re-run. Scotland does not want to go through the division and upheaval of another independence vote.

“Instead, the Scottish Government should be working hard to make the best of this, not shoe-horning its narrow agenda into almost anything it can.”

Scottish Labour’s Europe spokesman Lewis Macdonald said: “We have given the First Minister our backing to find a deal that meets the needs of the people of Scotland and we welcomed the Prime Minister’s commitment to find common agreement amongst the four nations of the UK.

“It is essential that the leaders of all the devolved administrations and the UK government work together in advance of any negotiations with the EU.

“All sides must put posturing to one side for the sake of the country and act in good faith.”

Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles said: “Setting up straw men to pave the way for a possible second independence referendum will not help deliver the sort of deal that Scotland and the UK needs.”

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