In the first major engagement of her premiership, Mrs May comes to Edinburgh with the gap between the two governments widening in a constitutional crisis triggered by last month’s EU referendum.
Last night Mrs May pledged that her government would “stand up” for Scottish families, and said the visit showed her personal commitment to keeping Scotland in the UK.
“I believe with all my heart in the United Kingdom – the precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland,” Mrs May said. “This visit to Scotland is my first as Prime Minister and I’m coming here to show my commitment to preserving this special union that has endured for centuries.
“And I want to say something else to the people of Scotland too: the Government I lead will always be on your side. Every decision we take, every policy we take forward, we will stand up for you and your family – not the rich, the mighty or the powerful.
“That’s because I believe in a union, not just between the nations of the United Kingdom, but between all of our citizens.
“Whether it’s reforming the economy or strengthening our society, we are going to build a better Britain and a nation that works for everyone – not just the privileged few.”
Mrs May named preserving the union her top priority on entering Downing Street, but has also pledged to honour the result of last month’s referendum, saying that “Brexit means Brexit”.
In reply, Ms Sturgeon has insisted that “Remain means Remain”, warning that a second independence referendum is “on the table” if Scotland is taken out of the EU.
Talks between the two leaders come as Ms May’s Chancellor, Philip Hammond, ruled out any special deal between Scotland and the EU in recognition of the vote north of the Border to remain in the 28-nation bloc.
Both Ms Sturgeon and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson have called for Scotland to play a central role in Brexit negotiations. Ms Davidson warned that Scotland “cannot be a bolt-on” to decision-making by the UK government.
Last night Ms Sturgeon said she hoped for a “constructive discussion” with the Prime Minister.
“It’s no secret to anybody that Theresa May and I hold very different political views and we’ve got perhaps different views on what should happen now in terms of the Brexit vote,” the First Minister said.
“My position is that I respect how people in other parts of the UK voted, I hope the Prime Minister will respect how people in Scotland voted.
“My job is to seek to protect Scotland’s interests and I’ve said I’m open to seeking to do that through the UK process. If I’m going to be able to do that then she has to make the process open and flexible.”
Ms Sturgeon said a second Scottish independence referendum may be the only way to secure Scotland’s interests and protect its EU membership but she wanted to “explore all options”.
She was speaking after the first meeting of the Standing Council on Europe, which she set up to advise the Scottish Government following the vote to leave the EU on June 23.
Yesterday Mr Hammond dismissed suggestions from Scottish Secretary David Mundell that Scotland could be allowed to negotiate a different deal with the EU, saying the best future for Scotland was remaining “inside the United Kingdom economy”.
Mr Hammond said: “However we voted, we are part of the United Kingdom and we have democratic decisions made across the United Kingdom. We will now implement the decision that the people of the United Kingdom collectively have made to leave the European Union.”