Scotland should not be blocked by UK ministers from holding another referendum on independence in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has said.
The Scottish Government is preparing to stage a second independence vote after the EU poll, although First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she will first try to strike a deal with European leaders to secure Scotland’s place in the bloc.
Last month Scots backed the UK remaining in the EU by a margin of 62 per cent to 38 per cent, with voters in England and Wales opting for Leave by 52 per cent to 48 per cent.
A referendum on Scottish independence would have to be endorsed by the UK government as constitutional matters are reserved to Westminster. Prime Minister David Cameron has indicated he would block such a move, but the Scottish Conservative leader yesterday warned against this.
Meanwhile, the vice-chancellor of Germany reportedly claimed that the EU would be ready to admit an independent Scotland to the bloc, despite probable opposition from other member states.
Ms Davidson said in a TV interview that another Scottish independence referendum would be “destabilising”, but added: “I have never said it should be denied, I didn’t say it the last time either. But I believe it’s so premature for the
First Minister, within three-and-a-half hours of votes being counted last Friday morning, standing up in Bute House and saying she was asking government officials to draw up the necessary legislation for a second independence referendum.
“We don’t know what we’d be voting on because there isn’t an offer to the UK government from the EU. I think it’s further destabilising in a period of instability already and I think it ill becomes her.
“We don’t know what the options are for Scotland and it’s incredibly premature for the First Minister to go down this road.”
Asked whether the UK government – which approved the 2014 independence referendum through the Edinburgh Agreement – should allow a future independence vote, Ms Davidson said: “I would argue as strong as I could that we should stay part of our biggest market and closest friend. [But] constitutionally the UK government shouldn’t block it, no.”
Her comments came as Germany’s economy minister and vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel reportedly said that the EU would accept Scotland as a member if the country leaves the United Kingdom and wants to join the EU.
Mr Gabriel’s intervention follows a report last week by right-wing think-tank the Centre for Policy Studies which warned an independent Scotland in the EU would be “like Greece without the sun”.
The report’s authors based their warning on Scotland’s ratio of deficit to GDP, the collapse of North Sea oil and gas revenues and the amount of trade Scotland does with the UK compared with the EU.
Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon yesterday called for “immediate guarantees” on the residency status and rights of EU nationals living in Scotland in letters to Prime Minister David Cameron and the five candidates bidding to replace him following his resignation in the wake of the Leave vote.
Ms Sturgeon said it was “imperative” the UK government respected the rights of Scotland’s 173,000 EU citizens.
The plea was made ahead of a meeting in Edinburgh with EU diplomats tomorrow.
The SNP manifesto for the 2016 Scottish parliamentary election said a “significant and a material change” of the circumstances in which Scotland voted against independence in 2014 could trigger a second referendum.
A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said the Tory’s leader’s position on the referendum was a “significant concession” by the party in Scotland.
But he added: “Our focus as a government is on the negotiations that lie ahead, to protect Scotland’s relationship with the European Union and our place in the single market. Scotland needs the stability and security of remaining in the world’s biggest single market.
“As we have said, a second independence referendum is an option which requires to be on the table and to ensure that option is a deliverable one in the required timetable steps are being taken now.”