Second referendum put on hold but Sturgeon keeps options open

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon has announced she is putting plans for a second independence referendum on hold.

The Scottish first minister said the Scottish government would not introduce legislation for another vote “immediately”.

She had previously called for another referendum to be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, but she has been reflecting on her options since the SNP lost 21 seats in the general election earlier this month.

Ms Sturgeon said she still wanted to give people a choice at the end of the Brexit process when “clarity has emerged” about how leaving the EU will impact Scotland and the UK.

However, plans for a referendum will not be revisited until at least autumn next year, when she will set out her view on the way forward, including “the precise timescale for offering people a choice over the country’s future”.

In the meantime, she said she would “redouble” her efforts to secure the best possible Brexit deal for Scotland.

Unionist opposition leaders said the first minister had not gone far enough.

Ms Sturgeon had originally argued another independence vote was necessary to give Scots – who voted to stay in the European Union in June 2016 – an alternative to the “hard Brexit” being pursued by the Tories.

“It remains my view, and indeed the position of this government, that at the end of the Brexit process, the people of Scotland should have a choice about our future direction as a country,” she said.

“Indeed, the implications of Brexit are so potentially far-reaching that as they become clearer, I think people will increasingly demand that choice.”

The proposal for a referendum was included in the SNP’s manifesto for last year’s Holyrood election while the majority of MSPs backed it in a vote earlier this year.

She added: “There is no doubt that the Scottish government has a mandate to offer the people of Scotland that choice within this term of Parliament.

“The mandate we have is beyond doubt, but deciding exactly how and when to exercise it is a matter of judgment, and it is a judgment that must be made in the interests of the country as a whole.

“That is what I have been thinking about.”

The Scottish government will also work to build “maximum support” for the proposals it set out at the end of 2016 – which argued for both the UK and Scotland to remain part of the European single market with “substantial new powers” for Holyrood.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson called on Ms Sturgeon to “give the country some certainty” by taking the Referendum Bill off the table for the rest of this parliament.

She said: “Yes voters and No voters, most people simply don’t want this brought back any time soon and none of the questions – none of the questions – that are raised by Brexit are answered by ripping Scotland out of our own union of nations, our biggest market and our closest friends.”

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said “absolutely nothing has changed” in Ms Sturgeon’s approach.

However, the Scottish Greens urged the first minister not to retreat from her referendum timetable.