Sturgeon pledges to push on with independence plans

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has vowed to push forward with her independence plans “while the Tories get deeper and deeper into the mire”.

The Scottish Government will publish a Bill on Wednesday setting out the planned rules for a second independence referendum before attempting to secure the power to hold a vote from Westminster.

Ms Sturgeon admitted getting a Section 30 order to allow a vote was “a legitimate, important party of the jigsaw”, but said she was committed to holding another referendum by 2021 despite likely opposition from the next Conservative leader.

Asked about why the Scottish Government was tabling a referendum Bill with the identity of the next prime minister still up in the air and no candidate has said they would want to allow a vote, Ms Sturgeon said: “It’s part of the process that we can get on and do right now while the Tories get deeper and deeper into the mire they are in.”

Speaking in Edinburgh at a celebration of the SNP’s best European election performance, Ms Sturgeon spoke of “two opposite forces” influencing politics — the Tory leadership contest following Theresa May’s resignation announcement and the collapse of the Labour vote.

“I think two apparently-contradictory things have happened: the risk of no deal has increased but also the chances of no Brexit have increased as well,” she said.

Ms Sturgeon warned that the current Conservative Party leadership favourites “would take the Tories down the track of a harder Brexit or possibly a no-deal Brexit, and we all know the catastrophe that would be.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with the SNP's three MEPs in front of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh (Tom Eden/PA)
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with the SNP’s three MEPs in front of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh (Tom Eden/PA)

Defending plans to push for independence, she added: “This is about choice, it’s about the people of Scotland being in charge of the direction we take as a country.

“Do we want to be forced out of the EU against our will? Do we want to face the prospect of a Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab government propped up by Nigel Farage?”

Fearing that a new prime minister could push for a no-deal Brexit, she stressed that any damage from leaving the EU without an agreement could not be fully mitigated, despite “very extensive no-deal preparations taking place within the Scottish Government.

“We will do all of that work but no deal would be catastrophic and we should all be focusing on stopping that happening,” she said.

Scottish Labour also face an “existential crisis”, Ms Sturgeon suggested, after the party slumped to fifth place in the European elections and lost both MEPs.

Describing “frustrating” meetings with Labour and the party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn, she added: “They have been so adamantly positioned on that fence but, now that they have paid a big electoral price for that, the pressure on them UK-wide and obviously here in Scotland is going to be immense to take an actual stance and to take the right stance.”

Ahead of the publication of the Scottish Government’s Bill on another independence referendum, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “People who backed the SNP to stop Brexit last week after Nicola Sturgeon promised the election was not about independence will feel let down. The SNP have misused their support to advance independence.

“Nicola Sturgeon wants to pile the chaos of independence on top of the chaos of Brexit.

“Not one patient will be seen quicker nor one school child get a better education as a result of Nicola Sturgeon’s independence obsession. All it will do is damage our economy and hurt our public services.”

Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins said: “It will come as no surprise to anybody in Scotland that Nicola Sturgeon has decided to use the EU elections to manufacture the case for a second independence referendum.

“No matter what people in Scotland say or do, the SNP’s answer is always the same – to take us out of the UK.

“This latest stunt is all about Nicola Sturgeon pandering to her party, not speaking for the country.

“At a time when we need to focus on the challenges on education, the economy, and public services, this proves that the SNP has become a waste of parliamentary space.”

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