A DUP figure has hit out at a renewed move towards Scottish independence which has now been unveiled by the leader of the SNP.
Christopher Stalford, MLA for Belfast South, was speaking after Nicola Sturgeon pledged to begin a consultation on legislation which could allow for her country to leave the UK.
An Independence Referendum Bill will be published for consultation by the Scottish Government next week.
In September 2014, roughly 55 per cent of Scottish voters rejected independence.
On Thursday, as she unveiled the new push towards separatism, Ms Sturgeon said that Scots should have the ability to reconsider the issue in light of the vote for Brexit and “to do so before the UK leaves the EU – if that is necessary to protect our country’s interests”.
Mr Stalford said: “This call was not about ‘protecting Scotland’s interests’ but about pushing forward the call for a second referendum in order to placate a section of SNP membership who have demanded this at all costs.
“Whilst complaining about a ‘hard Brexit’, the SNP would be happy to deliver a ‘hard independence’ with a huge black hole in its finances and economic consequences far worse than any of the dire predictions made before the EU referendum.
“I am glad that our First Minister has been ensuring that Northern Ireland’s voice is heard at the heart of this national process of leaving the European Union.
“Arlene Foster has been clear that the UK devolved regions must be involved, but taking a positive approach to securing the best possible outcome for individual regions and the UK as a whole.
“Such an approach would deliver better results for the people of Scotland than this latest attempt by the SNP to grab a headline.”
UUP MLA Steve Aiken said: “This is a diversionary tactic designed to play to her own gallery rather than considering the future wellbeing of the people of Scotland or the United Kingdom as a whole. This is a high risk strategy because a second referendum could lead to a second failure for Nicola Sturgeon and Scottish Nationalists. Polls suggest a majority of Scots would again vote to remain in the UK. I would appeal to Nicola to join with us and others in trying to get the best deal for the people of Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales outside the EU.”
First Minister Sturgeon insisted a fresh vote on independence would not simply be a re-run of the arguments of 2014.
She told SNP activists: “We must engage the arguments with a fresh eye and an open mind.
“The case for independence will have to be made and won.”
But she said if the choice is between “an inward looking, insular, Brexit Britain governed by a right-wing Tory party obsessed with borders and blue passports at the expense of economic strength and stability” and a “progressive, outward looking, internationalist Scotland”, then it is a case that “we will win”.
She accused Mrs May of having displayed “disregard for Scotland’s democratic voice that was reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher”.
In a direct message to the Prime Minister, she continued: “If you think for one single second that I’m not serious about doing what it takes to protect Scotland’s interests, then think again.
“If you can’t – or won’t – allow us to protect our interests within the UK, then Scotland will have the right to decide, afresh, if it wants to take a different path.”
Downing Street said the Prime Minister is committed to working with Holyrood, but stressed the Scottish Government will not be able to prevent Brexit.
Mrs May’s official spokeswoman told a Westminster briefing: “The position of the Prime Minister and the Government hasn’t changed.
“This issue was addressed in 2014, what we should all be focusing on now is working together as a union, as a United Kingdom, to get the best deal as we leave the EU.”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said Ms Sturgeon is “an SNP fundamentalist who puts independence first, last and always”.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said it showed “Nicola Sturgeon’s top priority is to divide our nation”.