Scottish independence: Nicola Sturgeon to launch new drive for second referendum

The Scottish First Minister wants to be sure there is support for independence before demanding another vote to leave the UK

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Friday 02 September 2016 08:37 BST
Nicola Sturgeon: Scotland's voice will be heard

Nicola Sturgeon has said the time has come for Scotland to have a new conversation about independence.

Giving a speech in the town where "Braveheart" William Wallace won a historic battle against the English, the Scottish First Minister said she would trigger the "biggest ever political listening exercise" to convince voters a second referendum is needed.

This would include a new website to gauge opinion, a string of town hall meetings and a "growth commission" to work out how Scotland can remain financially viable on its own and consider key issues like currency.

Ms Sturgeon, who knows she cannot demand a new vote unless she is certain of a win, said recent polls had shown increased backing for leaving the UK and added: "I suspect support for independence will be even higher if it becomes clear it is the best or only way to protect our interests."

At the event in Stirling, Ms Sturgeon said "seismic changes" following the UK’s decision to leave the EU will have a "deep impact" on Scotland that needs to now be addressed.

It was at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in September 1297 that Wallace defeated the army of Edward I, despite being hugely outnumbered.

Ms Sturgeon’s speech comes nearly two years on from the September 2014 referendum which saw Scots vote by 55 per cent to 45 per cent in favour or remaining in the UK. She said: "The UK that Scotland voted to stay part of has changed and so too have the arguments for and against independence."

"But there are two truths that we must never forget. First, Scotland will only become independent when a majority of people choose it. There are no shortcuts, we still have to make the case and win the argument.

And second, important though the issue of EU membership is, the case for independence is about more than that."

She said independence would provide "an alternative to just hoping for the best at Westminster", although she admitted it would present "its own challenges and complexities".

Ms Sturgeon said she wanted to understand in detail how people feel about Europe, Brexit and independence and that the "wealth of information and insight" gathered would inform the next stage of the SNP's campaign.

The First Minister added that "tough issues" will not be ducked, including how an independent Scotland would address a £15bn deficit. She said: "The commission will inform our thinking on how growth can be sustained in the here and now and during the period of uncertainty caused by Brexit.

"But it will also examine projections for Scotland's finances in the context of independence and consider a policy programme, with social justice at its heart, to grow the economy and reduce Scotland's deficit to a sustainable level.

"It will also consider the monetary arrangements that would best support and underpin a strategy for sustainable growth."

After this year’s Brexit vote Ms Sturgeon warned that a second independence referendum was "highly likely" and she has tasked the Scottish government to draw up legislation to pave the way for another ballot.

Prime Minister Theresa May has signalled she is against the idea and Labour, Tories and Liberal Democrats in Scotland have all vowed to oppose the legislation. The minority SNP administration could see a referendum Bill passed if it is backed by the Scottish Greens.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: "Nicola Sturgeon has shown today that she is prepared to ignore the priorities of the people of Scotland in pursuit of her own narrow nationalist agenda. If she was really listening, she would know that most of us don't want to go back to another divisive referendum debate, we want Scotland to move on."

Labour MSP James Kelly said: "It is disappointing that, days before laying a legislative agenda before the most powerful Scottish Parliament ever, the SNP are determined to drag us back to the arguments of the past."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie claimed Ms Sturgeon had already decided independence was the answer to Brexit. He added: "She is therefore only pretending to listen. With the chaos of Brexit we do not need further chaos with the threat of independence."

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