No Campaigners 'Jeopardised' Scotland's Place In EU, First Minister Tells MSPs

21 March 2017, 16:40


Scotland's place in the European Union (EU) was ''jeopardised'' by campaigners who fought to keep Scotland in the UK, the First Minister has said.

Nicola Sturgeon insisted that Scotland is ''being taken out of the EU against our wishes''.

She told MSPs: ''Contrary to the promises made by the No campaign before the 2014 independence referendum, staying in the UK hasn't safeguarded Scotland's place in Europe, it has jeopardised it.''

Ms Sturgeon is seeking Holyrood's backing to call for the power to stage a second independence referendum.

She wants another vote to take place between autumn next year and spring 2019, when she says there will be clarity over the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said ''now is not the time'' for another ballot and has indicated the UK Government would reject the SNP's preferred timetable.

MSPs are debating a motion which asks them to mandate the Scottish Government to take forward discussions with the UK Government on the details of a section 30 order - the mechanism to transfer the legal powers for a vote.

Scottish Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians have already made clear they will seek to block another referendum.

The pro-independence Scottish Greens, who have six MSPs, will give the First Minister the support she needs for her motion to be passed on Wednesday afternoon following a two-day debate.

Ms Sturgeon said there is an ''unquestionable democratic mandate'' for a second independence referendum.

She said: ''The suggest that an emphatic election victory on the basis of a clear manifesto commitment and a parliamentary majority on an issue does not provide a mandate begs the question what does? And it runs the real risk of undermining the democratic process.''

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government had tried to ''square the UK-wide vote to leave the EU with the Scottish vote to remain'' with its options paper for Scotland's place in the EU.

She said her administration's ''compromise'' proposals included keeping Scotland in the single market even if the rest of the UK leaves and more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

''All of these efforts at compromise - each and every one - have been rejected,'' she said.

''Indeed, there has been no meaningful attempt whatsoever by the UK Government to explore these options and find common ground.''

Ms Sturgeon continued: ''The probability is that our exit taking us outside the single market will be on harder and harsher terms than most people, including many Leave voters, would have supported in the run-up to last June's referendum.

''The voice of this parliament has been ignored at every step of the way and far from any indication of new powers, we now face the prospect of the UK Government using Brexit to reserve for itself powers in areas that are currently devolved to this parliament.

''All of this raises fundamental questions for Scotland.

''If the UK Government can ignore this parliament on one of the most fundamental issues that the country faces, what meaning can ever be attached to the idea that the UK is a partnership of equals?''

Ms Sturgeon said Scotland was now facing a ''fundamental'' choice over what kind of country it wanted to be.

She said: ''As a country, we can't avoid change. But we can choose what kind of change we want.''

Ms Sturgeon said: ''The future of the people of Scotland should not be imposed upon us. It should be the choice of the people of Scotland''.

Asked by Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie how she could hold claim a mandate using the EU when she could not guarantee membership, the First Minister replied: ''The SNP's position in favour on membership of the European Union is clear and it is longstanding, and what is beyond any doubt is that if we do not become independent, then that membership of the EU is ended because we are taken out against our will.''

On the key question of timing of the vote, Ms Sturgeon insisted this should be for Holyrood to decide, as it had done in the 2014 independence referendum.

She said: ''That should be taken in the interests of the Scottish people having an informed choice, not what is convenient for any politician or party.''

On her timetable, Ms Sturgeon said: ''Let me make this clear - if the UK Government disagrees with that timeframe, then they should set out a clear alternative and the rationale for it.

''As I have said in recent days, I am, within reason, happy to have that discussion to see if we can find common ground that I can then propose to this Parliament.''

The First Minister said it was ''entirely legitimate'' for the UK Government and other parties to ''robustly'' oppose independence.

''However, in the circumstances we now face, for the UK Government to stand in the way of Scotland even having a choice would be, in my view, wrong, unfair and utterly unsustainable.''

Ms Sturgeon insisted there was ''no indication at all'' that Westminster had listened to Holyrood on the issue of the EU.

''The UK Government is taking decisions entirely unilaterally that I and many others believe will be deeply damaging to our economy and standing in the world,'' the First Minister said.

When considering if Scotland should follow the path set out by Westminster, she stressed: ''The decision about the kind of country we are and the path we take can only be made by the people of Scotland.''
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the Scottish Government's number one priority is ''separation not education'' and called on the First Minister to ''take responsibility''.

She referenced the First Minister's previous comments that having another referendum would not happen without a change in public opinion and said this had not occurred.

Ms Davidson said: ''The people of Scotland don't want this and it won't wash to have a First Minister standing there, washing her hands, saying 'It's not me that's dragging us there, it's with a heavy heart, a big Tory did this and ran away'.

''It won't do, First Minister, take responsibility.''

Ms Davidson said polls indicated support for independence has not increased.

''Never mind though,'' she said.

''In the SNP, you don't even need to acknowledge old promises, still less honour them.

''Instead, we are told today to forget about what was once said and instead submit to the SNP's will. Well, we don't. And we won't.''