Nicola Sturgeon today made an audacious bid to exploit new divisions within Scottish Labour over the issue of a second independence referendum, as she urged opposition parties to "come together" to support a new vote.
The First Minister said that there needed to be co-operation to "protect Scotland" from the risks of a "Brexit-focused Tory government", and claimed the election result had given the SNP a mandate to ask for a second independence referendum.
And in a direct pitch to Scottish Labour MSPs who have publicly suggested the party should change its stance on an independence referendum in the light of last week's General Election results, which saw it reduced to just one MP, Ms Sturgeon said: "I know there are many voices, which I welcome, in Scottish Labour saying that mandate should be respected."
She added: "I am keen to work across party boundaries as much as I can, and I recognise there are many, not everybody, but many people within the Scottish Labour Party thinking very deeply about these questions and I'm very open to discussions to find common ground between us.
Ms Sturgeon made a statement to MSPs in Holyrood, reflecting on the results of last week's General Election and again stated that her government would produce a "democratic case" to be put to the UK government for the right to hold a second independence vote.
But while she urged cross-party co-operation in Scotland, she denounced both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives for a "deeply undemocratic approach to Scotland's ability to choose our future" and focused on Labour's wavering stance.
Divisions over the question of a second independence vote have erupted in Labour since last Thursday with some senior Scottish Labour figures coming out in favour of a referendum, despite party policy being to oppose one.
The party’s health spokesperson Monica Lennon said the Parliament must be allowed to decide on the issue - a stance backed by Ged Killen, the former MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, who lost his seat last week. Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has also acknowledged the party could shift its position ahead of the 2021 elections, however many within the Holyrood parliamentary group are understood to be vigorously opposed to the idea and will vote against the Referendums Bill on Thursday.
READ MORE: Senior Scots Labour figures come out in favour of independence referendum
Today Nicola Sturgeon referenced the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which had brought together political, business and civic societies in the late 1980s and 1990s, and urged cross-party co-operation of a similar kind. The SNP had originally been involved in the Convention, but pulled out when it did not discuss independence as a constitutional option.
Richard Leonard said he would be happy to work on a cross-party basis to "resist the attacks that Boris Johnson will wage on the people", but urged Ms Sturgeon to use the powers of the Scottish parliament to do so.
He said: "The Scottish Labour Party is happy to to support the Scottish Government demands to have a seat at the table in the Brexit negotiations, after last Thursday that's more important than ever. The FM has compared the position of Scotland today with that in 1992, and we are happy to work on a cross party basis as we did then... but there is a fundamental difference, compared to 1992 we now have this Parliament.
"Will the First Minister use all the powers of this Parliament as part of a campaign of resistance?"
However the First Minister said she that while she supported the Scottish Parliament "to do as much as it can I never supported a Scottish Parliament just so we could mitigate the worst impacts of Conservative government at Westminster."
She added: "I believe this Parliament will be better as an independent Parliament so we don't have to mitigate what a Tory government does, so we can decide for ourselves the policies that are right for Scotland. When push comes to shove, Richard Leonard is happier with a Conservative government at Westminster than self-government for Scotland.
"But for all of that, the point we should be able to unite around is it's not for me to decide that, it's for the Scottish people to decide if Scotland should become independent."
READ MORE: SNP will be the ‘real opposition’ to Boris Johnson’s government: Ian Blackford
Asked by Scottish Labour's Rhoda Grant about when the Scottish Government might be able to bring forward its budget, Ms Surgeon said: "I say to Labour, more in sorrow than anger, doesn't it just paint a picture of how unsatisfactory the current state of affairs is right now when this Parliament, the national Parliament of Scotland, can't even pass its annual budget because the Westminster government has decided to delay theirs? No self-respecting Parliament should be in that position.
"For goodness sake let's make this an independent Parliament so we can not only determine the timing of our budget but the content for every area as well, surely Labour can see that's a better position to be in than constantly supporting Tory governments in Westminster over self-government for Scotland."
And when asked by Labour's Neil Findlay to "genuinely work across the Parliament" and change her approach on a second independence referendum and until after the outcome of Brexit, she added: "I am happy to talk to anyone across this chamber, as I think Neil Findlay was indicating he was willing to do, to respect the mandate that this government, the SNP has, and to respect how the people of Scotland voted in this general election."
Earlier, Scottish Conservative interim leader Jackson Carlaw said the election had proved beyond doubt that "the whole of the UK will be leaving the EU". He added: "Brexit is no longer a what if, it's a political reality for us all" and urged Nicola Sturgeon to "engage constructively" with UK government.
Ms Sturgeon said it was a "democratic disgrace" that Scotland was leaving the EU and a "ridiculous position" for the Tories to suggest their manifesto should be implemented in Scotland, "when they were soundly beaten - while standing entirely on a platform of 'no to indyref2'."
READ MORE: Richard Leonard: Why Scotland now needs an urgent devolution plan
However, responding to the First Minister's speech later, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said that she was offering "constant division and uncertainty", with which Scots were now fed up. "That is why we will not support the First Minister’s plans for another unwanted referendum on separation," he said.
“We want 2020 to be a year of growth and opportunity for Scotland and the whole of the United Kingdom - not more political wrangling and wasteful debate. We will unleash the potential of every part of the UK and focus on the issues that matter - boosting jobs and helping with the cost of living.
“Remaining part of a strong United Kingdom is worth more than £10 billion in public spending in Scotland each year, and through the latest spending round Scotland will receive a further £1.2 billion cash boost.”
The First Minister also revealed that she would invite representatives from across Scottish society to identify responses to the UK election result, and to the prospect of Scotland leaving the European Union. Discussions with groups from across civic society will begin in January and will include trades unions, the business community, local government, and religious and minority groups.
The meetings will echo those held after the Brexit referendum in 2016, and will identify how, within the Scottish Parliament’s current powers, Scotland responds to the impact of UK Government actions including the imminent prospect of Brexit. She also said the Scottish Government would engage with the Standing Council on Europe, so that Scotland retains its relationships and voice in Europe.
“It is clear that Scotland must engage with the range of challenges facing us now - as well as discuss what kind of future we wish to create as a nation together," she said.
“The General Election result has made it clear that the future desired by most people in Scotland is different to the type of future chosen by the rest of the UK. That is why it is so important that the breadth and depth of civic Scotland urgently face up to, and respond to, these challenges.
“Just as we did in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote in 2016, the Scottish Government will in January convene a number of round table meetings, bringing together key groups that represent different areas of Scottish life.
“I hope in the days and weeks ahead, we will see a coming together around the idea that Scotland has a right to choose a better future.”
But Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “Nicola Sturgeon is trying to sound reasonable, but what she is saying is anything but. The General Election result did not provide her with a mandate for a divisive and unwanted second independence referendum.
“Ms Sturgeon has made clear that votes for the SNP in last week’s election were not a vote for Scotland leaving the UK.
“Yet she is proposing to keep the focus of government, Parliament and the civil service on trying to get another unwanted, divisive referendum when our public services are crumbling and in dire need of attention. It’s time this nationalist government got back to the day job. Scotland deserves better.”