Leader comment: Informed choice needs facts on both sides

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The announcement by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is really no ­surprise, but, now the prospect of a second independence referendum is upon us, it brings home the enormity of the political turmoil into which we are being thrown.

Now as the UK is about to negotiate Brexit from the European Union, the UK itself is facing a break-up simultaneously. It can only be messy ,and such political upheaval is bound to have a dragging effect on the economy – doubly so in Scotland where greater uncertainty will mean greater drag.

Nicola Sturgeon prefers the hashtag #scotref

Nicola Sturgeon prefers the hashtag #scotref

As Ms Sturgeon said yesterday, the SNP had stated in their manifesto that material change in circumstances could lead to another independence referendum, and gave an example of what that material change might be by citing Scotland being taken out of the EU against the nation’s will.

But if there were no surprises in the actions announced by Ms Sturgeon, there were some interesting pointers in the language – she very much played the anti-Tory card, and even mentioned speculative reports that the Tories could be in power until 2030 “or beyond”.

So she is to go to the Scottish Parliament to ask Westminster to grant a Section 30 order which will allow a legally-binding referendum to be held. Should the Scottish Parliament pass such a move – and it will, with the SNP supported by the Greens – Prime Minister Theresa May could reject it. But she would be rejecting the settled will of the Scottish Parliament and she should not do that, and cannot do that without creating dangerous division. There is greater speculation that the Westminster government may try to delay the referendum to a point beyond Brexit, but it should not do that either. It has to understand that what is now in motion has to be allowed, short of some last-minute agreement, or democracy will be failed.

So Scotland will face a choice, and it is important here to set down the First Minister’s exact words. She suggested the referendum between the end of the Brexit negotiations and before the UK actually leaves. She said: “It is important that Scotland is able to exercise the right to choose our own future at a time when the options are clearer than they are now – but before it is too late to decide on our own path. It is just as important that there is clarity about the implications of independence. And there will be.

“What Scotland deserves is the chance to decide our future in a fair, free and democratic way – and at a time when we are equipped with the facts we need. It is, above all, about informed choice.”

So that is clear: if Scotland is to be forced into again making a choice about leaving the UK, and the Brexit negotiations inform us as to what life in a post-EU UK would look like, we must also know what life in Scotland post-UK would look like, and we need facts. Will we be in Europe and at what cost? Will we have the Euro, will we have open borders (except with England), what would our defence configuration be? And many others. The First Minister has promised facts for informed choice. Let us hope she keeps her word.