Nicola Sturgeon has told independence supporters to “stop obsessing” about the timing of a second referendum as she appeared to accept that it may not happen before Brexit.
The First Minister insisted Scotland would still have “options” on deciding to leave the UK, even if a second vote does not take place before March next year, when the UK formally leaves the EU.
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The SNP leader, who addressed her party’s conference in Aberdeen at the weekend, called for a debate of the “substantive” issues rather than focusing on the timing
Asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show today if a second independence referendum is possible before Brexit, Ms Sturgeon said: “Anything in life is possible.”
But she said: “I think the uncertainty around Brexit just now is such that we shouldn’t make any decisions on timing about a possible second independence referendum and I said I won’t give that any further consideration until we get more clarity which I hope will be sooner rather than later for a whole host of different reasons.
“What I was saying to my party conference yesterday was let’s stop obsessing all the time about when we might get the chance to vote on independence again - instead let’s engage people in the substantive arguments.
“Let’s address people who still ask the question why should Scotland be independent. This is a good time to have a debt that is focused on maximising our opportunities as a country, rather than just resigning ourselves to the inevitable damage that Brexit is destined to do to us.”
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The prospect of second referendum being staged before Brexit appears unlikely as Ms Sturgeon has indicated that she would not set out her precise timescale until later this Autumn. But it would usually take some months for the legislation to go through the Scottish Parliament and the question and processes would also have to be approved by the Electoral Commission. There would also be a campaign period of about four months.
Ms Sturgeon added: “Even if it doesn’t happen before then (Brexit), Scotland will still have options. I think one of the things Scotland and the people of Scotland are probably going to be quite sceptical about is this issue that’s being debated again, and all the scare stories we heard in 2014, that if we become independent we will be thrown out of the European Union and it will take years and years to negotiate our way back in.
“It’s because we didn’t become independent that, of course, now we’re facing the prospect of being taken out of the EU even though most of the people in Scotland didn’t vote for that.”
Ms Sturgeon said it would be wrong to conclude she is effectively ruling out a second referendum before Brexit, but said it was important to have clarity on the future relationship between the UK and EU.
She added: “Do we want to simply sit back and await the meltdown - to use the language of the Foreign Secretary at the end of the week - or do we want to look much more positively and build a future based on optimism and hope and how we maximise the many, many opportunities we have a country.
“I think most people have an appetite to do the latter.”