Nicola Sturgeon and senior politicians ramp up the constitutional divide in New Year messages

Constitutional tensions have been ramped on the final day of the year, with the country’s most senior Conservative and SNP politicians reaffirming their opposing positions on whether Scotland should remain within the UK in their new year messages.

While some party leaders called for an end to division, both Scottish Secretary Alister Jack and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made clear that the 12 months ahead will continue to see Scottish politics dominated by the question of independence.

Mr Jack pledged to put the “union at the heart of everything”, while Nicola Sturgeon said she would continue to work to ensure there will be second referendum in 2020 - the 700th anniversary year of the Declaration of Arbroath.

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Nicola Sturgeon will press ahead with demands for a second independence referendum in 2020.Nicola Sturgeon will press ahead with demands for a second independence referendum in 2020.
Nicola Sturgeon will press ahead with demands for a second independence referendum in 2020.
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The Scottish Secretary, who was appointed by Boris Johnson earlier this year, said that Britain leaving the EU would mark the start of a “new chapter”.

“After years of wasteful debate and delay, the UK Government’s strong majority in the Commons means, finally, we can get Brexit done," he said. "We will honour the result of the 2016 referendum and deliver a Brexit that works for Scottish farmers, fishermen and businesses.

“As we begin this new chapter together, I will put the Union at the very heart of everything we do and work hard to make sure Scotland has a prosperous future.”

He added: “We are stronger and more prosperous as a union of nations. Let’s put the rancour and division behind us and look forward to a better future together. I believe 2020 will be a year of growth and opportunity, as we work to boost the prosperity of every part of the UK. Let’s all raise a glass at midnight to a united, peaceful and prosperous Scotland in 2020.”

However, Nicola Sturgeon, said that while 2020 would be a “historic year” as a result of Brexit, and that her government would “do everything we can to mitigate the worst impacts”, she added: “and we will work to ensure that people in Scotland have the chance to determine our own future - by deciding whether we wish to become an independent country.”

Ms Sturgeon’s depute SNP leader, Keith Brown went further, and said that “the case for independence has never been clearer”, after the General Election result and the impending withdrawal from the EU.

He said: “In 2014 we were told that voting No meant staying in the EU and voting Yes meant leaving. The reality is that, not only are we being dragged out of the EU against our will, but we’re facing yet more Tory governments we didn’t vote for.

“Scotland has been completely ignored since the Brexit vote. The democratic deficit is as clear as it has ever been. Scotland’s future must be in Scotland’s hands – not Boris Johnson’s.”

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The Prime Minister has been emphatic in his refusal to grant a Section 30 Order which would allow the Scottish Government to hold a referendum, despite Ms Sturgeon’s claim that her party had a new mandate to hold a second vote in the light of the General Election result.

The First Minister also ended the year with the publication of a document which she said presented the “democratic case” for a second referendum. However she was urged by other politicians to “move on” from constitutional matters in their new year messages.

Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said there had been a “decade of division” which needed to end as the “fallout from the referendum result has created huge tensions across the country”.

He added: “I hope that, once we have left Brussels at the end of this month, those tensions will dissipate and we can come back together. It is time to move on... and enter a new decade of delivery for all. I am optimistic that this will indeed happen.

“More constitutional division is not what Scotland wants this year. It is in all our interests to recognise that. I’m looking forward to getting back to work – and getting on with making our whole country a better, more united, place.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said the new year should be a time for “reflection and resolve”, including resolving “to build a better society... a society where we are not putting borders and national boundaries up - but we are bringing them down.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, also said that it was time to put divisions “behind us and instead focus on what unites us”.

"We have witnessed unprecedented constitutional division, leaving scars that have proved difficult to heal. It is time to concentrate on bringing people together to solve the challenges we face,” she said.

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And Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said Brexit and Donald Trump were among the challenges facing the UK over the next year. “Around the globe, dark currents have buffeted liberal democracy.

“Boris Johnson’s Brexit threatens to cut us off from our European neighbours, while Donald Trump’s trade wars and Twitter tirades threaten to undo America’s status as a global leader.“Meanwhile from Hong Kong to Xinjiang, protesters and activists face brutal clampdowns. These are the challenges we must face up to over the next 12 months.”

He added: “Closer to home there are huge challenges, too. From long waits for mental health treatment to the bungled rollout of the new childcare entitlement, Liberal Democrats will highlight, debate and scrutinise the Government so that everyone can rely on great public services that help them to build a brighter future.”

In her message Ms Sturgeon also highlighted the coming UN climate change summit in Glasgow in November, which she said would put Scotland will be at the “centre of international attention” in 2020 in her New Year message.

“Hopefully that summit will lead to progress in tackling the most important issue that the world faces,” she said: “And it will give Scotland a chance to show that we are leading by example - not just by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions but by doing so in a way that helps to build a fairer, healthier and happier society.”