Sturgeon: Indyref2 if Westminster opts for '˜hard Brexit'

The Scottish Government will call a second independence referendum if the UK opts for a so-called 'hard Brexit', Nicola Sturgeon has warned.

Nicola Sturgeon after giving her address at the SNP conference in Glasgow. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

The First Minister said her administration would work with others “to try to save the UK as a whole from the fate of a hard Brexit”, where the country is removed from the single market.

As part of that the SNP leader is demanding new powers for Scotland over issues such as immigration.

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But while she accepted that leaving the UK would bring “challenges”, she said she would make sure that voters had that choice if the Tory government at Westminster fails to secure a deal that keeps Scotland in Europe’s free trade area.

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Ms Sturgeon told the SNP national conference in Glasgow that the party would “work with others across the political divide to try to save the UK as a whole from the fate of a hard Brexit”.

As part of that she said: “We will propose new powers to help keep Scotland in the single market even if the UK leaves.

“But if the Tory government rejects these efforts, if it insists on taking Scotland down a path that hurts our economy, costs jobs, lowers our living standards and damages our reputation as an open, welcoming, diverse country, then be in no doubt Scotland must have the ability to choose a better future.

“And I will make sure that Scotland gets that chance.”

While the UK as as whole opted to leave the European Union in June’s referendum, 62% of Scottish voters backed remain, with Ms Sturgeon saying then this made another vote on independence “highly likely”.

She has already told the conference the Scottish Government will publish a draft independence referendum bill for consultation next week.

New policies

Ms Sturgeon used her closing address to announce a number of new domestic policies, pledging a consultation with parents on how to make childcare more flexible, an “independent, root and branch review of the care system” and an increase in funding for primary care which will see GPs and health centres receive an extra £500 million by 2021.

But with the vote for Brexit dominating much of politics, she also revealed a new four-point action plan designed to boost Scotland’s economy and improve exports.

The country is in “a completely new era”, she said, adding this would be a “new era for our relationship with Europe and the wider world” that would bring “challenges aplenty”.

Leaving the single market would be “disastrous” for the Scottish economy, the First Minister said, adding that work to boost the economy is “even more important now”.

Ms Sturgeon stated: “More than ever we need to tell our European friends that Scotland is open for business.

“And let me be crystal clear about this - we cannot trust the likes of Boris Johnson and Liam Fox to do that for us.

“So today I can announce a four-point plan to boost trade and exports, by taking Scotland’s message, directly and in our own voice, to the very heart of Europe.”

The Scottish Government will set up a new Board of Trade, she said, along with a trade envoy scheme where prominent figures from the business world and other communities will help promote Scotland overseas.

A new “investment hub” to showcase the country will be established in Berlin, and the agency Scottish Development International will have its European staff more than doubled.

While she outlined these measures, the First Minister was scathing of the Conservatives, after Theresa May’s party discussed proposals to make companies list foreign workers at its conference in Birmingham.

“The Prime Minister’s position on EU nationals shames her and it will be a stain on her government each and every day that it is allowed to continue,” Ms Sturgeon said.

She hit out at the Tories, describing their vision for the UK as “xenophobic, closed, inward looking, discriminatory” as she told the conference: “Let’s be frank, the Tories are no longer the Conservative and Unionist Party.

“After last week, we should call them what they are - the Conservative and Separatist Party. Or Ukip for short.”