Prime Minister David Cameron is to embark on a whistle-stop tour of EU member states tomorrow in a bid to alter the UK’s membership terms before the in-out referendum is staged, possibly next year.
Plans for the EU vote will be at the heart of the new Conservative government’s Queen’s Speech at Westminster today.
The First Minister confirmed she is to push for a “double majority” to be included in the vote that would mean all four nations of the UK must back withdrawal before exit is possible.
The prospect of a UK vote to withdraw from the EU – if Scots vote to stay in – are among the “material changes” which Ms Sturgeon has indicated could result in another quickfire independence referendum. Opposition parties last night urged the SNP leader to stop stoking up “divisions” over the issue and get behind the pro-EU campaign.
Ms Sturgeon revealed yesterday she is to make a keynote speech in Brussels on Tuesday at the European Policy Centre, where she will set out the case for EU membership.
She said: “One of the pre-occupations of the government is to look at how we campaign positively and the right way, in the referendum we know is approaching over the next couple of years on European membership. I don’t think it is desirable to hold an in-out referendum on membership of the EU.
“But since a referendum is inevitable, we will work to protect Scotland’s interests. We will propose a double majority, meaning that exit is only possible if all four nations of the UK agree to it – something which would prevent Scotland from being forced out of the EU against our will.
“That’s something I intend to say more about when I make a speech in Brussels.
“We don’t think it’s perfect, we think reform is both desirable and necessary, but we believe very strongly that Scotland’s interests are best served by being members of the European Union and we will argue that case strongly and positively.”
About 330,000 jobs are dependent on the single market, the First Minister said yesterday.
She added: “It would be folly to put that at risk in the way David Cameron is. We will be making the positive case for the UK and Scotland to stay within the European Union.”
The pledge to stage the in-out referendum was a key Tory manifesto promise.
Mr Cameron has said he wants to remain part of Europe, but is demanding the UK be exempted from the drive towards closer union and tougher benefit restrictions on migrants.
Ms Sturgeon set out her position yesterday as she made her first major speech on the economy since the UK election earlier this month, which saw the SNP seize 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats.
The speech at Heart of Midlothian FC’s Tynecastle stadium in Edinburgh came ahead of the Queen’s Speech today which is likely to include legislation to stage a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.
The SNP are calling on Labour to rethink their shared opposition with the Tories to allowing EU nationals resident in the UK to vote in the referendum on EU membership. Labour have confirmed they will support the SNP’s call for 16 and 17-year-old voters to be included in the referendum.
Labour dropped its opposition to the referendum at the weekend in recognition of the general election result and is campaigning against withdrawal, with the Liberal Democrats.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie accused the First Minister of using the EU referendum to stoke up the case for Scottish independence. “I know Nicola Sturgeon wants independence for Scotland but she should stop quibbling about Europe,” Mr Rennie said last night.
“The SNP need to get on with making the positive case for Europe rather than using it to enhance the chances of independence for Scotland.
“If she is passionate about the UK remaining in the European Union, she should throw her full support behind the campaign.
“Europe is good for jobs, trade, workers and consumer rights and so much more so I hope the SNP will join is in a cross-party campaign to keep us in Europe.”
The Scottish Greens have also joined the SNP’s opposition to leaving the EU, but co-leader Patrick Harvie admitted the double majority scheme proposed by Ms Sturgeon is unlikely.
He said: “While we agree that Scotland’s opinion should be heard, it’s hard to see the UK Parliament agreeing to a referendum on the terms that the UK can only exit if all four nations agree.”