The First Minister reiterated her promise to reveal plans for a second independence referendum in a “matter of weeks”, regardless of what happens with the Brexit process.
She insisted Scots needed an alternative to the chaos engulfing Westminster politics after Theresa May’s EU withdrawal deal was overwhelmingly rejected by the Commons and given the absence of a clear way forward. The First Minister met Mrs May on Wednesday following the historic Commons defeat of the Prime Minister’s deal on Tuesday. Afterwards, Ms Sturgeon said she would announce the timing of a second independence vote “within weeks”. “I think the Prime Minister is very well aware of my views on independence, I support independence and I think the sooner Scotland is independent the better for all of us,” the First Minister told MSPs at Holyrood yesterday.
“I think it is essential, given the catastrophe that Scotland faces – to our economy, to our society, to living standards, to prospects for the next generation, to our reputation in the world – that the option of independence must be open to people in Scotland.
“When people in Scotland have the ability to choose independence, I believe that the country will opt to be an independent country.”
She will set out her proposals on the timing of a second Scottish referendum in coming weeks, regardless of any delay to the Brexit process.
“Extension of Article 50 is essential now,” she said. “The Prime Minister has wasted time. It seems to me that her tactic has been to run down the clock to hope she can try to panic people into backing her deal – the one that was rejected in a historic defeat in the House of Commons this week.
“There is water to go under the bridge in the next matter of weeks and when it has done so, I will make my views on the timings of a choice on independence clear.
“It is then, of course, for all of us who support independence to get out there and make the case . I believe that case has been strengthened by what has happened in the last two-and-a-half years, and if we make that case then people in Scotland will choose to be an independent country and we can get on with building a better future than the one offered to us by the chaos and incompetence of Westminster.”
Power over the constitution is reserved to Westminster. The Scottish Government formally sought a Section 30 order from the UK Government that would give Holyrood authority to hold a referendum on independence. However, this has been rejected, with Mrs May insisting “now is not the time” for another vote given the uncertainty of the Brexit situation.
It remains unclear how any referendum on independence could then be staged in Scotland with senior SNP figures having already ruled out an illegal Catalonia-style vote.
But Ms Sturgeon is facing growing pressure from her grassroots for a more aggressive approach, with senior SNP MPs such as Angus MacNeil among those calling this week for a second Scottish referendum. Polling suggests that support for independence among Scots has not shifted significantly in the light of Brexit, although it does remain at about the 45 per cent level of the last referendum on leaving the UK in 2014.
The SNP leader also called on Labour to come out and back a second referendum on EU membership. Ms Sturgeon said: “It is time for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour to get off the fence they have been sitting on for so long. Labour wanted to force a general election first.
“The debate on and vote of no confidence in the UK Government took place yesterday and SNP MPs voted that they have no confidence in the Government. We backed Labour in that attempt, but it did not pass.
“It is urgent for Jeremy Corbyn to say whether he backs a second EU referendum.”
Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the pro-independence Greens, said the turmoil at Westminster makes “the word omnishambles sounds like timid understatement”.
He said: “I recognise the First Minister’s position that extending or revoking Article 50 are necessary and that a people’s vote is necessary. These options clearly must be taken.
“But the First Minister has also said the case for Scottish independence depends on a material change of circumstances. Given the chaos, there is no single aspect of these circumstances which hasn’t changed beyond recognition since 2016.”
Ms Sturgeon said she believed support for independence was growing “with every day that passes”.
But that was rebuffed by Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, who said after FMQs: “These were reckless and ill-advised comments from Nicola Sturgeon, who simply can’t accept that the majority of people in Scotland want her to drop her threat of a divisive and unwanted second independence referendum.
“It is not the case that support for independence grows with every day that passes – every single opinion poll in 2018 found majority support for remaining in the UK.
“Independence is not the answer and could be eight times as damaging to our economy as the worst-case Brexit.”