Unsurprisingly the statement made today at Holyrood was not universally welcomed.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today outlined the steps The Scottish Government will take to progress the debate on Scotland’s future in light of Brexit, and the action to be taken to protect the option for an independence referendum to be held within the current term of the Scottish Parliament.
In a parliamentary statement, the First Minister said it was time to build consensus in place of a UK Government system that clearly does not work in Scotland’s interests, and in the face of a constitutional ‘status quo which is broken’.
She acknowledged the fact that not all MSPs support independence and proposed cross-party talks to discuss which powers other parties believe should be transferred to the Scottish Parliament to enable it to better protect Scotland’s economic and social interests.
She also confirmed plans to establish a Citizens’ Assembly to bring together a representative cross-section of Scottish society under an independent chair and seek views on how best to equip Scotland’s Parliament for the challenges of the future, in light of Brexit.
The First Minister also made clear that The Scottish Government will act now to protect and progress the option for an independence referendum to be held by introducing a framework Bill, which will set the rules and principles for any referendum.
This Bill will protect the option of an independence referendum within this parliamentary term. Once the Bill is passed it would only require the transfer of power at a later date via a Section 30 Order to proceed to a vote on independence.
The First Minister said:“There is, surely, one point of clarity that has emerged over the last three years – even for the most ardent opponent of Scottish independence.
“The Westminster system of government does not serve Scotland’s interests, and the devolution settlement, in its current form, is now seen to be utterly inadequate to the task of protecting those interests. In other words, the status quo is broken.
“Brexit has exposed a deep democratic deficit at the heart of how Scotland is governed. And – whatever our different views on independence – it should persuade all of us that we need a more solid foundation on which to build our future as a country.
“With all of our assets and talents, Scotland should be a thriving and driving force within Europe. Instead we face being forced to the margins – sidelined within a UK that is, itself, increasingly sidelined on the international stage. Independence, by contrast, would allow us to protect our place in Europe.”
The First Minister added:“It is now time for this Parliament, for all parties represented here, to take charge.
“The immediate opportunity we now have is to help stop Brexit for the whole UK – and we should seize that opportunity. But if that cannot be achieved, dealing with the consequences of Brexit and facing up to its challenges will be unavoidable.
“I believe that the case for independence is stronger than ever. And I will make that case. But I know others take a different view. So, as we take the necessary legislative steps over the next few months, I will also seek to open up space for us to come together and find areas of agreement as mature politicians should.
“We have seen in Westminster what happens when parties fail to work together – when leaders take a ‘my way or the high way’ approach and when so many red lines and inflexible preconditions are set that progress becomes impossible.
“Twenty years on from the establishment of this Parliament, I believe we can do better. Brexit makes change for Scotland inevitable.
“This place was established with the hope that it would be a new type of parliament. We can show that we are able to put the interests of the people first.
“So if others across this chamber are willing to move forward in that spirit, they will find in me an equally willing partner.
“But if all they have to offer the people of Scotland is a failed and damaging status quo, then the process of change will pass them by and support for independence will grow.”
Interim leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Jackson Carlaw, attacked her “hypocrisy” for claiming Scotland needed to “come together” while demanding the most divisive thing of all.
Scottish Conservative interim leader Jackson Carlaw said:“Whatever the First Minister says about being ‘inclusive’, her statement is inherently divisive.
“Astonishingly, the way Nicola Sturgeon thinks we can come together is for Scotland to be plunged into another divisive referendum within the next 18 months.
“That is frankly absurd.
“The SNP’s plan is clearly to divide families, workplaces and communities all over again, and for the foreseeable future.
“That is not what the majority of Scotland wants.
“People have had enough of constitutional politics and division.
“Yet, with the SNP, more of this is now inevitable.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “Nicola Sturgeon is using her office as First Minister to put the interests of the SNP before the interests of our country.
“Her statement today is not about Brexit, this is about Nicola Sturgeon trying to pacify her party members and back benchers ahead of the SNP’s conference.
“The chaos of Brexit throws into sharp relief the challenges of leaving a political and economic union.
“Leaving the UK would lead to unprecedented austerity for Scotland’s public services.
“The political dividing line in Scotland is clear: investment with Labour with a focus on fixing our public services and economy or another decade of austerity with the SNP and the Tories with a focus on divisive and destructive nationalism.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said:“The First Minister hasn’t done the one decent thing that people in Scotland want her to do, which is to take her campaign for independence off the table.
“Nicola Sturgeon should look at the damage caused by Brexit and the division it has caused and learn a lesson. Breaking up is hard to do.
“With all the chaos and division of Brexit, the wounds still open from the last independence campaign and all the problems facing schools, hospitals and social care, the last thing the country needs is another divisive independence campaign. We should not repeat the mistakes of Brexit. The First Minister should make it stop now.”
Struan Stevenson, Chief Executive of Scottish Business UK (SBUK) following today’s statement from the First Minister :“Today’s statement only served to highlight the double dose of uncertainty that the First Minister has administered to Scottish businesses. Already grappling with the impacts of Brexit and now a potential independence referendum within the next two years, Scotland’s businesses are being side-tracked from their important role as wealth and job creators in the Scottish economy.
“No wonder the First Minister has opted to kick the can further down the road, though that will be of scant consolation to businesses who just want her to get on with facilitating economic growth.”
“It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the First Minister’s continued focus remains on appeasing the Yes supporting constituency in advance of the SNP conference this weekend, rather than seeking to do what’s best for Scotland’s economy. As the Yes movement once again ties itself in knots over the issue of currency this weekend, all today’s statement does is provide a useful smokescreen for the fact that the SNP really doesn’t have a credible way forward on economic questions that are absolute prerequisites for any future referendum campaign.”
Joanna Cherry QC and SNP MP for Edinburgh South West said:“I have a resolution to SNP conference this weekend proposing that the Scottish Parliament set up a Citizens’ Assembly to build consensus on some of the big policy issues Scotland faces as we move towards independence.
So I am delighted to hear that First Minister announce today that the Scottish Government will establish a Citizens’ Assembly to do just that. These initiatives have worked well in several countries most notably in Ireland to help advise on solutions to thorny issues and constitutional change.”