Sturgeon warns May: Blocking second referendum would shatter 'beyond repair' idea of UK as equal partnership

Comes after First Minister signals willingness to compromise on timing of independence ballot

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Nicola Sturgeon is to warn Theresa May against shattering "beyond repair" the idea the UK is a partnership of equal countries by blocking a second Scottish independence referendum.

The First Minister shocked the UK Government with her announcement on Monday that she wanted a second poll to be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, once the terms of Brexit are known.

The Prime Minister has made clear she believes "now is not the time" for a re-run of the 2014 ballot, and that Britain will only get the deal it needs from the EU if Scotland is "pulling together" with the rest of the country.

MSPs are expected to back the First Minister's call for a Section 30 order to be granted when Holyrood votes on the issue on Wednesday. The Scottish Parliament could then formally ask Westminster to grant it authority to hold a legally-binding referendum.

Ms Sturgeon will tell the SNP spring conference in Aberdeen that if the vote is passed next week, the demand for another independence ballot will become "the will of the democratically-elected Parliament of Scotland".

She will say: "To stand in defiance of it would be for the Prime Minister to shatter beyond repair any notion of the UK as a respectful partnership of equals."

With the UK having voted to leave the European Union in 2016 but Scots largely voting to stay part of the bloc, she will insist the future "looks very different" than it did in 2014 when Scotland said No to independence.

Closing the SNP conference, Ms Sturgeon will say: "We know change is coming. The EU referendum has made sure of that. The only question is what kind of change.

"Whatever our different opinions on independence, we can all unite around this simple principle—Scotland's future must be Scotland's choice."

Scottish independence: Nicola Sturgeon announces second referendum plans

But the First Minister has indicated she is willing to compromise on the timing of the referendum.

She told the BBC it was "up for continued discussion" with Ms May, and added: "What I am saying today is let us try and work our way through that disagreement.

"Let [Ms May] set out when she thinks it would be right and then let's have a discussion about it. Who knows, we might be a matter of weeks or months apart."

The SNP manifesto for the 2016 Holyrood election set out the prospect of a second independence referendum if there was a "material change in circumstances" in the UK, such as Scotland being removed from the EU "against its wishes".

Ms May said on Friday: "It is now clear that using Brexit as the pretext to engineer a second independence referendum has been the SNP's sole objective ever since last June.

"The fact that more Scottish voters backed Scotland staying in the UK in 2014 than supported the UK staying in the EU in 2016, and that almost half a million independence supporters actually backed Brexit last year, seems to count for nothing."

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: "Nicola Sturgeon said as late as Thursday that a referendum after April 2019 would be 'too late'. Now she has changed her mind and appears to be trying to engage in some kind of horse-trading with the UK Government.

"The future of Scotland is not a game. It is time for the First Minister to act responsibly over our future."

Additional reporting by agencies

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