Nicola Sturgeon has pulled back from an early second referendum to secure Scottish independence, after the SNP’s election setback. The Scottish First Minister announced she would “reset the plan we set out on 13 March” – which promised legislation at Holyrood to try to force the referendum.
The move backfired in this month’s general election, when her Scottish National Party lost 21 of its 56 seats, falling to 35 per cent of the vote.
With recent polling suggesting just 43 per cent of Scots favour a second independence referendum so quickly, Ms Sturgeon admitted the controversy had cost her party at the ballot box.
“I am therefore confirming today that, having listened and reflected, the Scottish government will reset the plan I set out on 13 March,” she told the Edinburgh Parliament. “We will not seek to introduce legislation for an independence referendum immediately.”
In March, the First Minister vowed to give Scots a second chance to vote on leaving the UK by the time of EU withdrawal in spring 2019 – after insisting Scotland rejected Theresa May’s plans for a hard Brexit.
At Holyrood, Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, said Ms Sturgeon should have gone further by taking the independence referendum off the table entirely. She tweeted, sarcastically: “We're neither introducing nor scrapping indyref2 bill. Instead we're having another summer of love for one last heave.”
But Ms Sturgeon insisted that the Scottish Government “remains committed strongly to the principle of giving Scotland a choice at the end of this process”.
The SNP still wanted to give people a choice at the end of the Brexit process when “clarity has emerged” about how the move will impact Scotland and the UK. In the meantime, her ministers would “ redouble our efforts and put our shoulder to the wheel in seeking to influence the Brexit talks in a way that protects Scotland's interests”.
Insisting independence remained her dream, Ms Sturgeon said: “We must persuade the majority in Scotland of that. We have not done that yet – but I have no doubt that we can.”
At Westminster, Ms May had attempted to block an early second referendum, insisting it could not be held within two years because the Scottish people would not know the outcome of the Brexit talks.
In order to hold a legally binding poll, Edinburgh must be granted an “Order in Council” by Westminster under Section 30 of the 1998 Scotland Act.
To help the Scottish government influence Brexit talks, Ms Sturgeon restated her plea for SNP ministers to be at the table – and challenged the other parties at Holyrood to back her. “The Scottish government will stand the best chance of positively influencing the Brexit outcome if we are at the table, with the full backing of our national Parliament, arguing for the sensible option of staying in the single market,” she said.
“So, join us now, with no equivocation. Back the demands for the democratically elected Scottish government to be at the table, able to influence the UK's negotiating strategy and for Scotland and the UK to stay in the European single market.”
Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said “nothing has changed”, adding: “The First Minister has had a long hard think about her plans for independence. And, after that long hard think, the First Minister has concluded that the First Minister should call another independence referendum at a time of the First Minister's choosing. So absolutely nothing has changed.”
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