Scottish independence: Nicola Sturgeon to set out plans to hold referendum without UK approval

Nicola Sturgeon will set out plans to hold a second referendum without the UK Government's approval as she admitted a trade border will be created with England if an independent Scotland joins the EU.

The First Minister said she will outline in the next couple of weeks how the Scottish Government can "forge a way forward" in the face of stubborn refusal from Westminster, in a move many believe will end in a court battle.

It came as she published the first in a series of papers setting out the updated case for independence.

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Scottish independence: What have we learned and what big questions remain unansw...
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking at a press conference at Bute House in Edinburgh at the launch of new paper on Scottish independence. Picture: Russell Cheyne/PA WireFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking at a press conference at Bute House in Edinburgh at the launch of new paper on Scottish independence. Picture: Russell Cheyne/PA Wire
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking at a press conference at Bute House in Edinburgh at the launch of new paper on Scottish independence. Picture: Russell Cheyne/PA Wire

Described as a “scene-setter”, the first document, which runs to 71 pages, lays out the economic and social differences between Scotland and other small countries, attributing the deficit to not having the full powers of an independent country.

Future papers will tackle issues such as currency, pensions, defence, EU membership and trade, with Ms Sturgeon vowing she will not “shy away” from tough questions.

She promised a “significant update” later this month on how another referendum can be held without the relevant powers being granted by Westminster through a section 30 order, as happened in 2014.

Ms Sturgeon wants to hold a second referendum before the end of next year, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson is unlikely to agree to this.

Picture: Russell Cheyne/PA WirePicture: Russell Cheyne/PA Wire
Picture: Russell Cheyne/PA Wire

Speaking during a press conference at Bute House, her official residence in Edinburgh, the First Minister said she would deliver on her “mandate” for a referendum, but insisted it “must be lawful”.

She said the UK Government had “no respect for democracy”, adding: "That means if we are to uphold democracy here in Scotland, we must forge a way forward, if necessary, without a section 30 order.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “We know that in these circumstances the competence of the Scottish Parliament to legislate is contested, and that therefore is the situation we must navigate to give people the choice of independence. That work is well underway.”

The union is reserved to Westminster, but there are different legal views on whether referendum legislation would fall outside the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

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There is an expectation the UK Government would challenge the legislation in the Supreme Court.

Academics Aileen McHarg and Chris McCorkindale previously warned there “are no legal short cuts” in this area. Adam Tomkins, a law professor and former Tory MSP, has argued overcoming the legal obstacles would require stripping the referendum “of any meaning whatever”.

Elsewhere, Ms Sturgeon admitted the Scottish Government would have to address “regulatory and customs issues” relating to the border with England.

Asked if there would be a trade border, Ms Sturgeon said she would not “repeat the mistakes of Boris Johnson” on Brexit “and pretend that implications of the decisions we take don’t exist”.

She said: “If we are in the single market and the rest of the UK is outside the single market, then yes – there are issues in terms of regulatory and customs requirements that need to be met.

“What I’m saying is not that these challenges don’t exist, but these challenges can be managed in a way that doesn’t present disadvantages to our businesses – and, of course, the benefits of that situation are the ability to trade freely within a market that is seven times bigger than the UK.”

She said Scotland would remain in the Common Travel Area, adding: “But the issues in terms of regulatory and customs issues around goods, we’ve got to work out how that operates in a way that would fulfil the requirements that would be on us in terms of European Union membership.

“We need to set out how we would deal with that in a way that isn’t damaging to the south of Scotland and isn’t damaging to businesses.”

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Ms Sturgeon continued: “I will be frank. I’ve said very clearly, there will be customs and regulatory issues on trade if we are in the single market.

“I think the benefits of being in the single market outweigh the challenges there.

“What I’m saying to you very frankly is we need to set out how those challenges will be met.”

The First Minister was also asked if she would like to see a formal, “broad church” Yes campaign as there was in 2014, and if she would share a platform with former first minister Alex Salmond.

Addressing the point about Mr Salmond, she said: “That latter one probably qualifies as one of the least important questions of the entire independence debate."

She said independence was not about her or Mr Salmond, but about “the future of Scotland”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “The campaign for independence is broad church and will be broad church.”

The First Minister denied her independence drive was a distraction from the issues facing Scotland, such as lengthy NHS waiting lists.

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Patrick Harvie, the Greens co-leader who is also a Scottish Government minister, appeared alongside Ms Sturgeon during her press conference, insisting “there could not be a more important time to give the people of Scotland a choice over our future”.

Mr Johnson told reporters in Staffordshire the Scottish people had already made their views known.

He said: “I think the decision was taken by the Scottish people only a few years ago, in recent memory. I think we should respect that.

"I think we should also focus on what I think the people of the whole of the UK – Scotland, England, everybody – wants us to look at, which is the economic position we are in, the effect of Covid on the country and then the post-Covid issues that we’re grappling with.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said pushing for another referendum was “the wrong priority at the worst possible time”.

He said: “The people of Scotland want the focus to be on the huge challenges facing us.

“We want the focus to be on creating better jobs and opportunities. We want the focus of the Government to be on improving public services.

“Instead, this Government offers Scottish people more distraction, disruption and division.

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“In the middle of a global cost-of-living crisis, it’s a disgrace that the SNP are diverting resources and public money away from our frontline services."

He added: “This Government is obsessed with independence, when it should be obsessed with delivering for Scotland now.

Nicola Sturgeon should give it a rest – and focus on the people of Scotland's priorities now.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “Nicola Sturgeon has no answer to the vital economic questions posed by independence, no plan to deliver a referendum and no intention to listen to the majority of Scots who are opposed to independence.

“Instead, the First Minister wants to feed off Boris Johnson and his Tory Government to fuel her own political ambitions."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The First Minister must be wired to the moon if she thinks that breaking up the UK is the priority for people."

A spokeswoman for the UK Government said now “is not the time to be talking about another referendum”.



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