Sturgeon to set out plans to stay in single market
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon addresses the Scottish National party conference in Glasgow on Thursday © Reuters
Nicola Sturgeon has promised to lay out specific proposals to keep Scotland in the EU’s single market even if the rest of the UK leaves, as she announced she would publish a new independence referendum bill next week.
In her opening speech to the Scottish National party, the first minister acknowledged divisions within the SNP on the issue of a second vote on independence. But she said that, while Brexit would justify another referendum, her decision on whether to demand one would be decided by what was “best for the people of Scotland”.
“There is not a day that passes just now without someone advising me to hurry up with a referendum. And there is not a day that passes without someone advising me to slow down,” she said. “Welcome to my world.”
Ms Sturgeon also called for new powers for Scotland over immigration and international relations. Aides said it was too early to give details of the powers she would seek but cited education and policing as areas where Scotland might want to pursue its own international agreements.
Granting immigration powers might allow Scotland to reintroduce work visas for graduating international students.
However, the first minister got her most enthusiastic cheer when she announced that an independence referendum bill would be published for consultation next week.
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The bill will open the way for the first minister and SNP leader to demand another vote, but it will not commit her to doing so, enabling her to keep her options open.
In the meantime, she said, the Scottish government would lay out keenly awaited proposals for how Scotland — which voted 62-38 per cent to remain in the EU — should fare in the Brexit negotiations.
“Over the next few weeks we will table specific proposals to protect Scotland’s interests in Europe and keep us in the single market even if the rest of the UK decides to leave,” said Ms Sturgeon. “It is clear that beyond hardline rhetoric the UK government has no detailed plan.”
Scotland would also demand “substantial additional powers” for the Scottish parliament. “All the powers in our areas of responsibility that currently lie with the EU — and significant new powers too. Powers to strike international deals and greater powers over immigration,” she said.
In what appeared an emphatic endorsement of the SNP ruling establishment, Angus Robertson, leader of the party’s Westminster parliamentary group, was elected deputy leader. Mr Robertson won 52 per cent of the vote, beating three rivals in the first round.
Ms Sturgeon said the calls for special Brexit arrangements and new powers meant the constitutional ball was now firmly in the court of Theresa May, UK prime minister.
Kevin Anderson, a delegate for the Arbroath SNP branch, leapt to his feet and cheered with enthusiasm when Ms Sturgeon announced publication of the referendum bill.
But he said it would be wrong to rush moves to an actual vote. “We are not ready yet,” he said. Many nationalists also recognise that opinion polls suggest the Brexit vote has delivered only a small rise in support for independence while the fiscal cost of separation would be very high.
However, Ms Sturgeon insisted that if Scottish voters had to choose between an “insular Brexit Britain” and “internationalist Scotland”, then independence would win.