Independence could be back on the table within two years even if the UK Government agrees to the SNP’s “soft Brexit” vision, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The First Minister insisted “the argument for independence doesn’t go away” even if her demands for either Scotland or the UK to remain a member of the single market are met, adding Conservative ministers would be “making a big mistake if they think that I am in any way bluffing” on a second referendum.
Opposition leaders accused Ms Sturgeon of being “inconsistent” on a rerun of the 2014 contest and demanded she rule out another the constitutional vote.
She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr: “I would seek to find ways within the UK, recognising the diversity of opinion on independence in Scotland, to seek to protect Scotland’s interests within the UK.
“If we can do that, the independence argument doesn’t go away but we don’t need to have that decision within the time-scale of Brexit.”
Pressed on how long she saw that period being, the SNP leader replied: “I can’t answer that question entirely but let me tell you what my assumption is.
“My assumption is, from the point at which Article 50 is triggered, we have a two-year period, after which the UK is no longer in the EU.”
Ms Sturgeon repeatedly said she was trying to seek a “compromise” deal with the UK Government as it exits the EU, however.
But she launched a stinging criticism of Prime Minister Theresa May’s approach to the issue and co-operation with leaders of the devolved administrations.
The First Minister said that instead of “prioritising” the “sensible solution” of keeping the UK in the single market, Mrs May was trying to “appease” Eurosceptics in her “deeply-divided” party.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “The SNP are where they’ve always been – trying desperately to use Brexit as a means of whipping up support for independence.”
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale added: “This is yet another attempt by the SNP to sow division and uncertainty, at a time when the country needs to pull together more than ever.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Nicola Sturgeon’s inconsistent position is causing damaging uncertainty. She rightly criticises the Prime Minister for a lack of clarity on Brexit but the First Minister is making matters worse with a similar lack of clarity on independence.”