Sturgeon and cabinet debate election fallout, but indyref2 not discussed

13 June 2017, 15:54 | Updated: 13 June 2017, 15:56

nicola sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon and her Cabinet have discussed the impact of the General Election on Brexit - but did not consider what effect the result of the vote would have on Scottish Government plans for a second independence referendum.

The First Minister and senior members of her team agreed there could now be "a substantial opportunity for alternatives to a hard Brexit'' following the Conservatives' failure to win an overall majority, a spokesman confirmed.

But when asked if the Scottish Cabinet had considered the impact of the election on its referendum plans, after the SNP lost 21 Commons seats, the spokesman said: ``There was no discussion, no.

"There was a discussion of the outcome of the election in relation to Brexit, but no specific discussion of a referendum.''

The SNP leader has already pledged to "reflect carefully'' on the election result and has conceded plans for a second vote on leaving the UK were ''undoubtedly'' a factor in the result.

Her spokesman insisted he was "not going to pre-empt the First Minister'' on the issue.

He told journalists at a Holyrood briefing: "I'm not going to outline any position on independence or a referendum because it's for the First Minister to do that, and she has indicated she will do that in due course.''

Pressed on why Ms Sturgeon is calling for amendments to be made to the UK's Brexit plans in the wake of the election, but has not yet announced any change to her proposals for a second independence referendum, the spokesman said: "The fact remains the SNP won a majority of seats in Scotland, Theresa May and the Conservatives did not win a majority of seats in the UK, so there is a difference, there is a distinction to be drawn there.''

But the new group of 13 Scottish Tory MPs said the election was a "damning verdict'' on the First Minister's proposals.

In a statement, they said: "Unless we present a united front to the EU, Nicola Sturgeon will disrupt our negotiations. And unless she gets back to the day job, Scotland will continue to pay a high price.

"So she needs to end her denial, listen to what the people of Scotland have said and face up to the reality.

"She needs to look the Scottish people in the eye and tell them she has given up on a second independence referendum.

"Unless and until she does, she is putting her party ahead of her country - and we will not stand for it.''

Almost immediately after the UK voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, the First Minister said a fresh ballot on independence was "highly likely''.

Scottish Government officials were instructed to start working on the legislation that would be necessary for another vote, and in March this year Ms Sturgeon said she wanted this to be held between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of 2019, when the terms of the Brexit deal are known.

The First Minister was due to outline the ``next steps'' towards a second vote after Holyrood's Easter break - but her statement was delayed by the election, with her spokesman saying he does ``not have a timescale'' for when it might take place.

Ms Sturgeon and Scotland's Brexit Minster Mike Russell led the Cabinet talks on how the UK's exit from the European Union could be affected by the election result.

The First Minister's spokesman said afterwards: "There seems to be a substantial opportunity for alternatives to a hard Brexit now emerging and the Scottish Government will continue to play its full part alongside the UK Government and the other devolved administrations in trying to ensure, from our point of view, an outcome away from hard Brexit.

"If it does nothing else, the outcome of the election shows the need for consensus.''

He stressed staying within Europe's single market is still "paramount'' for Scottish ministers.

The SNP administration published a paper last year setting out its proposals to keep either the whole of the UK or Scotland alone in the single market following Brexit.

Since last Thursday's election, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has said there is a need to look again at issues like Brexit to ensure there is cross-party support.

"It is about making sure we put free trade at the heart of what it is we seek to achieve as we leave," she said.

Ms Sturgeon's spokesman made clear: "Single market membership is what we are absolutely committed to, a continued place in the single market.

"Our position is that a continued place in the single market, that is paramount.''

Asked if this could be up for discussion, he said: "I think anything short of that immediately takes you into hard Brexit territory.

"It can be dressed up any number of fancy ways, and given other descriptions or name-tags, but if you are outside the single market effectively where you are heading is what is commonly known as a hard Brexit, with all that that entails.''

Scottish Labour business manager James Kelly said: "Clearly independence has become the elephant in the room for Nicola Sturgeon.

"We want the Scottish Cabinet focused on jobs, schools and hospitals - but it is staggering that SNP ministers did not discuss dropping a referendum given Thursday's result.''