The case for Scottish independence has been “materially strengthened” by Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon has claimed as the UK government battles to save the Prime Minister’s deal with the EU.
The First Minister said she hoped to be able to unveil her timetable for a second independence referendum “very soon”, renewing speculation that she will issue a demand for a fresh vote on Scotland’s future in the weeks ahead.
And she attacked Jeremy Corbyn for refusing to embrace another referendum on Brexit, calling on the Labour leader to “get off the fence”.
Her comments came as MPs returned to Westminster following the Christmas break with little sign of progress in convincing Conservative rebels to back Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
Opposition parties rallied behind a plan to make delivery of a no-deal Brexit impossible by amending key financial legislation, in a bid to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU without an agreement.
Meanwhile, critics blasted a test of plans to deal with gridlock around the UK’s Channel ports in the event of no-deal as a farce, after the government gathered half the number of lorries it said it needed for the exercise at an airfield in Kent.
Speaking to the BBC, Ms Sturgeon claimed Scotland’s interests were being “completely ignored and sidelined” and that what has happened in the past two years has reinforced the case for it to leave the UK.
Ms Sturgeon would not be drawn on timings around an independence referendum, but insisted the SNP had a mandate to call an independence referendum before the next Holyrood election.
“Everything that has happened over the past couple of years, from Scotland facing exit from the EU against our will to every reasonable attempt at compromise to protect Scotland’s interests by the Scottish Government being spurned, to the powers of the Scottish Parliament being eroded, to the UK government even taking the Scottish Government to court, all of that has strengthened and reinforced the case for Scotland to be independent, because these are not just academic arguments, all of this will have a material impact on Scotland’s economy and well-being for decades to come,” Ms Sturgeon said. “The case for independence is materially strengthened from an already strong base in 2014 because of all of the experience of Scotland in the last two years. We were told in 2014 that it was voting for independence that would put in peril our membership of the European Union.
“Because we didn’t vote for independence, we now not just find ourselves facing exit, the voice and the interests of Scotland are being completely ignored and sidelined.”
Ms Sturgeon said there is “clearly no majority” to crash out of the EU without a deal and that holding another referendum on Brexit should be the alternative.
She said: “I hope the meaningful vote does go ahead next week so that MPs can once and for all say that they don’t support the Withdrawal Agreement, and then the House of Commons can coalesce behind the alternative, and in my view that alternative now should be to have another EU referendum. I don’t take for granted that there is a majority for that, but the SNP will be part of building that majority.”
Turning her fire on the Labour leader, Ms Sturgeon added: “I think there’s a big question for Jeremy Corbyn now: is he going to get off the fence and actually do what the majority of his own party members want him to do, which is back a second referendum?”
Mrs May’s official spokesman accused the First Minister of “sowing the politics of division” and said the Prime Minister was focused on delivering her Brexit deal.
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw called on the SNP leader to abandon her “obsession” with independence.
“Today Scots are heading back to work at the beginning of a new year, but Nicola Sturgeon is stuck in the past,” Mr Carlaw said. “As at the start of 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015 her priority is to rerun the referendum of 2014. People across the country will correctly be thinking, ‘There she goes again’.
“The best new year’s resolution the SNP could make would be to drop the independence obsession and concentrate on delivering for the people of Scotland.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said “one of the experiences of Brexit has been just how difficult and painful it can be to break away from a union, even one that has been place for just 40 years”.
Mr Leonard added: “A union that has been in place for 300 years would, in my view, cause considerable economic disruption and there is no appetite from the people of Scotland for it.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie claimed the SNP “appear to have learned absolutely nothing from Brexit”, adding: “Breaking up is hard to do.”