Nicola Sturgeon has issued a rallying call to Nationalists to help build a majority for independence as she unveiled plans to hold a second referendum within the next two years.
It came as the SNP yesterday launched a revived “Yes” campaign intensifying the prospect of a repeat of the 2014 referendum in response to the Brexit turmoil.
The First Minister’s plans were branded “absurd” by opponents at Holyrood yesterday, who accused her of seeking to stoke up grievance and division just five years after the last vote on leaving the UK.
Ms Sturgeon also faced claims that she was seeking to placate Nationalists ahead of the SNP conference in Edinburgh this weekend.
New legislation will be brought forward at Holyrood by the end of the year which would provide the framework for the vote, the SNP leader announced yesterday.
But the Scottish Government will hold off seeking a Section 30 order from Westminster which has control over the constitution, including referendums. Theresa May has made it clear that she would refuse such an order – but she is expected to be replaced as Prime Minister within months.
The First Minister also held out an olive branch to opposition parties as she announced plans to convene cross-party talks on more powers for Holyrood to address the broken “status quo”.
Plans for Citizen’s Assembles were also set out which would see a “cross section” of Scots society come together to set out the way forward for the country.
Ms Sturgeon has been under pressure for months to set out an update on her plans for a referendum after declaring her plans to stage a vote in response to the Brexit vote which saw a majority of Scots vote to remain.
“I consider that a choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent, European nation should be offered in the lifetime of this parliament,” Sturgeon told MSPs yesterday
“If Scotland is taken out of the EU, the option of a referendum on independence within that timescale must be open to us.
“That would be our route to avoiding the worst of the damage Brexit will do.”
The referendum is being sought to give Scots an alternative to the turmoil of Brexit amid growing fears over the impact jobs and the economy in Scotland, particularly if there is a no deal departure.
The legislation being introduced at Holyrood will set the framework of rules and procedures for a referendum that would fall within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. It will be on the statute book by the end of the year, with Constitution Secretary Mike Russell to set out the details next month.
Ms Sturgeon added that a section 30 order from Westminster would only be required further down the line to apply the bill to an independence referendum.
The First Minister branded the UK’s government’s refusal to grant Holyrood the authority to hold such a vote as “unsustainable”.
But she added: “We won’t squander valuable time now in a stand off with a UK government that may soon be out of office.
“We will seek agreement to a transfer of power at an appropriate point during or shortly after the bill’s passage, on the basis that it will be exercised when this parliament and no other - considers it right to offer the people of Scotland a choice.”
But Downing Street last night gave short shrift to the prospect of a Section 30 order being granted which would transfer authority to Holyrood to stage another referendum.
“As we have repeatedly made clear, Scotland already had an independence referendum in 2014 and voted decisively to stay in the UK,” the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.
“This should be respected.
“Our position hasn’t changed. Both sides agreed to respect the result of the 2014 referendum - that is what needs to happen.”
The Scottish First Minister has slammed the breakdown of Westminster politics as the Brexit date of Match 31 was missed amid widespread factionalism, resulting in a six month extension agreed.
She added: “The Westminster system of government does not serve Scotland’s interests.
“And the devolution settlement, in its current form, is now seen to be utterly inadequate to the task of protecting those interests.”
An attempt to seek consensus with pro-union opposition parties was also set out by Ms Sturgeon as she insisted there was common ground on a the attack on Holyrood’s powers in the recent Brexit bill and over the impact of potential hardline migration restrictions on Scotland after Brexit.
“The fact that we do not agree on Scotland’s ultimate destination should not stop us travelling together as far as we can,” Ms Sturgeon added.
Mr Russell has been asked to explore with other parties areas of agreement on constitutional and procedural change.
A “respected and independent individual” may also be recruited to broker discussions.
“I will write to party leaders today and Mike Russell will be in touch with their nominated representatives thereafter to consider how these discussions might be progressed,” the SNP leader said.
“And this should be an exercise – if parties can find it within themselves to do so – this should be an exercise that doesn’t start with the fixed positions of any of us – but one that considers the challenges Scotland faces and what solutions might help us to address them.
“If serious and substantial proposals emerge, this Parliament could then present them to the UK government in a unified and united way.”
Scottish Conservative interim leader Jackson Carlaw insisted there was no majority among scots for a second referendum - a condition the First Minister had previously attached to
“Whatever the First Minister says about being ‘inclusive’, her statement is inherently divisive,” Mr Carlaw added.
“Astonishingly, the way Nicola Sturgeon thinks we can come together is for Scotland to be plunged into another divisive referendum within the next 18 months.
“That is frankly absurd. The SNP’s plan is clearly to divide families, workplaces and communities all over again, and for the foreseeable future. That is not what the majority of Scotland wants.
“People have had enough of constitutional politics and division. Yet, with the SNP, more of this is now inevitable.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard insisted the statement yesterday was about placating SNP members ahead of the party’s conference this weekend. Nicola Sturgeon is using her office as First Minister to put the interests of the SNP before the interests of our country,” Mr Leonard added.
“Her statement today is not about Brexit, this is about Nicola Sturgeon trying to pacify her party members and backbenchers ahead of the SNP’s conference.
“The chaos of Brexit throws into sharp relief the challenges of leaving a political and economic union. The Brexit shambles has only confirmed our belief that we would be far better governing ourselves.
“Leaving the UK would lead to unprecedented austerity for Scotland’s public services.
“The political dividing line in Scotland is clear: investment with Labour with a focus on fixing our public services and economy or another decade of austerity with the SNP and the Tories with a focus on divisive and destructive nationalism.”
But Alison Johnstone, co-leader of the pro-independence Greens said her party was ready for a second referendum campaign.
“Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands, as an independent nation at the heart of Europe,” Ms Johnstone said.
“The Brexit shambles has only confirmed our belief that we would be far better governing ourselves.
“The vision currently being considered by the SNP looks more like the failed economic model of the UK, a vision which has led to cuts to public services and increasing child poverty, than the bold vision for independence the Greens campaigned for and believed in. The First Minister also announced the establishment of a citizen’s assembly.
“We welcome this move, but this body cannot simply be a talking shop. We will put pressure on the Scottish Government to ensure that this body is listened to.”