Nicola Sturgeon has announced plans to hold a second independence referendum, insisting a ballot on leaving the UK is necessary to allow Scotland to choose its own course and avoid a hard-line Tory Brexit.
The First Minister confirmed she is to seek the approval of MSPs at Holyrood next week to start negotiations with the UK Government on a deal that would allow a legally binding ballot to be held.
That could see a second independence vote take place as early as autumn 2018 – just four years on from when Scots voted by 55% to 45% to stay part of the United Kingdom.
Prime Minister Theresa May said Ms Sturgeon’s decision was “deeply regrettable” and warned the move was setting Scotland on a course for “more uncertainty and division”.
The move comes after nearly two thirds (62%) of Scots opted to stay in the European Union in June 2016, but the UK as a whole voted for Brexit.
Speaking at her official residence, Bute House in Edinburgh, the First Minister said: “I will now take the steps necessary to make sure that Scotland will have a choice at the end of this process – a choice of whether to follow the UK to a hard Brexit or to become an independent country, able to secure a real partnership of equals with the rest of the UK and our own relationship with Europe.”
Ms Sturgeon said she would go to Holyrood next week and “seek the authority of the Scottish Parliament to agree with the UK Government the details of a Section 30 order – the procedure that will enable the Scottish Parliament to legislate for an independence referendum”.
She stated: “If Scotland is to have a real choice, when the terms of Brexit are known but before it is too late to choose our own course, then that choice must be offered between the autumn of next year, 2018, and the spring of 2019.”
In her response, Mrs May said she would negotiate a Brexit deal which worked for “the whole of the UK – that includes the Scottish people”.
She added: ” The tunnel vision that the SNP has shown today is deeply regrettable. It sets Scotland on a course for more uncertainty and division.”
The Prime Minister said the evidence showed that ” a majority of the Scottish people do not want a second independence referendum”.
“Instead of playing politics with the future of our country, the Scottish Government should focus on delivering good government and public services for the people of Scotland. Politics is not a game.”
A poll by BMG for The Herald newspaper showed about four in 10 Scots support another vote on independence before Brexit happens.
It suggested that voters are split 52-48 in favour of remaining in the Union.
Meanwhile, an Ipsos Mori poll for STV News which was published just four days ago indicated that those who were certain to take part in a second independence ballot were divided 50-50.
Ms Sturgeon said “compromise” proposals put forward in December 2016, which would see Scotland stay in the single market when the UK exits the EU and new powers going to Holyrood as a result of Brexit, had been met with a “brick wall of intransigence” from Mrs May’s Government.
She hit out at the Prime Minister, saying: “UK membership of the single market was ruled out with no prior consultation with the Scottish Government, or indeed with the other devolved administrations – leaving us facing not just Brexit, but a hard Brexit.
“There has been talk of special deals for the car industry and others but a point-blank refusal to discuss in any meaningful way a differential approach for Scotland.
“And far from any prospect of significant new powers for the Scottish Parliament, the UK Government is becoming ever more assertive in its intention to muscle in on the powers we already have.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “There should be little doubt about this – if Scotland can be ignored on an issue as important as our membership of the EU and the single market, then it is clear that our voice and our interests can be ignored at any time and on any issue.”
Leaving the EU would affect jobs and the economy north of the border, as well as how “open, welcoming, diverse and fair” Scotland would be in the future, the First Minister said.
She also said there were implications for democracy, questioning “to what extent will we be able to determine our own direction of travel, rather than having that decided for us?”
The First Minister said: “In short, it is not just our relationship with Europe that is at stake.
“What is at stake is the kind of country we will become.
“Now at times of change and uncertainty, the instinct to do nothing and just hope for the best is understandable. But, in my view, it is not the right one.
“At times like these, it is more important than ever to have a clear plan for the way ahead – to try, as far as is possible, to be in control of events and not just at the mercy of them.”
She stated: “Right now, Scotland stands at a hugely important crossroads.
“We didn’t choose to be in this position. In common with most people across the country, I wish that we weren’t in this position. But we are and the stakes are high.”
Ms Sturgeon’s announcement prompted anger from the leaders of the pro-Union parties at Holyrood.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the SNP leader had “given up acting as First Minister for all of Scotland”.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “Scotland is already divided enough. We do not want to be divided again, but that is exactly what another independence referendum would do.”
Downing Street refused to be drawn on whether Mrs May would facilitate the referendum, stressing that it had not yet been backed by Holyrood.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We have said there shouldn’t be a second referendum. But as for the issue, it hasn’t gone through the Scottish Parliament yet … We are waiting for the Scottish Parliament to reach a decision.
“But we are 100% clear that we do not believe there should be a second independence referendum. They said at the time this would decide the issue for a generation.”