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12 April 2017, 05:31
Nicola Sturgeon has insisted her preferred timetable for a second Scottish independence referendum is necessary to allow voters to make an "informed choice'' between Brexit and leaving the UK.
The First Minister is in a stand-off on the issue with Prime Minister Theresa May, who has made clear she believes "now is not the time'' for a fresh ballot to be held.
The SNP leader wants there to be another vote on leaving the UK between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, when the terms of the UK's Brexit deal are clear.
She pledged the Scottish Government would set out "with as much detail and clarity as possible'' key issues such as the currency of a separate Scotland - a crucial factor in the 2014 referendum - ahead of a possible second ballot
While the First Minister has not yet set out how she intends to take the matter forward, as Scotland's devolution settlement reserves powers over the constitution to Westminster, she told an audience in Glasgow that people need to be able to "come to a considered judgment'' on the issue.
She contrasted the 2014 independence referendum campaign with last year's vote for the UK to leave the European Union - a position not supported in Scotland where 62% of voters opted to remain part of the bloc.
But in that ballot she said "people were asked to vote for a change, without ever really being told what that change involved''.
Ms Sturgeon said: "I don't pretend for one moment that the 2014 referendum was perfect. But I do think it was a far better process for debate and decision than the 2016 vote on the EU.
"And so we want to ensure that the next referendum on independence again gives people the information they need to come to an informed and considered judgment.
"That is why nobody wants the referendum to take place immediately. Instead, I believe it should happen once the details of the final Brexit agreement with the EU are known. Based on what the Prime Minister says currently that is likely to be in late 2018 or early 2019.''
She continued: "Of course well before the referendum debate the Scottish Government will also set out proposals for what an independent Scotland would look like, we will address issues such as the currency, our plans for fiscal stability and the process of securing our relationship with Europe in future.
"And we will do all of that with as much detail and clarity as possible.''
The First Minister, who was addressing the Political Studies Association annual conference, recalled EU membership had been a "significant issue'' in the 2014 independence referendum.
She said: "Many of those who opposed Scotland becoming independent - including the UK Government - argued that leaving the United Kingdom was a risk, that it would threaten Scotland's place in the European Union. So it's somewhat ironic that the opposite has turned out to be true.
"Scotland, despite the arguments that were made in 2014 and how we voted in 2016, faces being forced to leave the EU against our will.
"In my view, that is democratically unacceptable. That is why the Scottish Parliament, two weeks ago, agreed that discussions should begin with the UK Government for a referendum on independence, once the final terms of Brexit deal are known.''
With Scotland again facing "a time of intense political debate'', the First Minister argued a second referendum would not necessarily split the country
Ms Sturgeon said: "There is a lot of talk in Scotland right now about how an independence referendum would be divisive. There is nothing inevitable about this campaign or any campaign being divisive.
"Campaigns and politics are only divisive if we make them so, and we should be determined, all of us, not to make it so.''
She stated: "Fundamentally, all voters simply want the best for their own families, for their communities and for their countries. They just come to different conclusions about how best to achieve that.
"So the campaign around Scottish independence needs always to respect that fact. We need to recognise the honesty and validity of people's anxieties, doubts and differences of opinion.
"As First Minister, I have a responsibility to lead by example. After all, the Scottish Government has a special responsibility to build consensus where we can.
"So I will do my best to ensure that at all times we make our case not just with passion and conviction, but with courtesy, empathy and respect. I hope very much that all politicians will do the same.''
She went on to insist that if an independent Scotland was in the EU, Scots would not be swapping Westminster rule for control from Brussels.
Ms Sturgeon said the EU "at its heart it is a coming together of independent countries...to address challenges or seize opportunities in the modern world that few countries can do alone''.
She stated: "I've never believed and have never accepted, because I think it defies logic, that Scotland being a member of the EU somehow would undermine its independence as a country.
"You don't go to France or Germany and hear them say they are anything other than independent countries, although they are members of the EU. So being independent in Europe is not, and never has been in my view a contradiction in terms.''
But Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said the First Minister "seems to be unable to accept that a majority of Scots simply do not want another referendum''.
He hit out: "The last thing Scotland needs right now is a divisive and unwarranted referendum.
"Instead it needs a Scottish Government that gets on with the job it was elected to do, such as addressing the many problems facing our schools, hospitals and the economy.''
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale also said Ms Sturgeon should focus on the business on government.
She stated: "Instead of constantly seeking to divide the country, the SNP should focus on the job of governing - tackling the crisis in our schools, fixing our broken NHS, and investing in local services.
"The clearly expressed will of the Scottish people is to remain in the UK. That's the mandate that Nicola Sturgeon must respect.''
Meanwhile, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "Families and communities across Scotland are still damaged by the division of the last independence referendum. The First Minister is living in dreamland if she thinks another one would be positive for Scotland.
"The First Minister has not done enough to tackle her extreme cybernat supporters. Even today the SNP leader in Edinburgh has said that no party other than the SNP is properly Scottish.
"That is an insult to the majority of people in Scotland. This abuse has to stop. And the First Minister needs to get it sorted.''