25 July 2016
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called on the UK Government to prove the importance they place on Scotland’s role in the United Kingdom as they progress EU exit negotiations.
She gave a major speech to members of the Institute for Public Policy Research in Edinburgh, and said that the UK’s negotiating position must allow those parts of the UK that voted to leave the EU the option of doing so, while those parts which voted to stay should have the option to remain.
The First Minister condemned the lack of planning for a Leave vote by those who proposed the referendum, and warned that the UK appears to be heading for a ‘hard’ rather than a ‘soft’ exit from the UK – which the people of Scotland overwhelmingly did not vote for.
She also said that if Scotland’s interests cannot be protected then Scotland must have the right to consider another independence referendum.
During the speech, the First Minister said:
We don’t yet have any clear idea of what a Leave vote means in practice – while ‘Brexit means Brexit’ is intended to sound like a strong statement of intent, it is in fact just a soundbite that masks a lack of any clear sense of direction.
“If we can read anything from the early signs, whether from government appointments or initial pronouncements, it is that the UK is heading towards a hard rather than a soft Brexit – a future outside the single market, with only limited access, and significant restrictions on free movement.
“Scotland didn’t choose to be in this situation, and our vital interests are at stake with potential consequences that will affect all of us – so I have a duty to do all that I can to protect those interests.
“We can seek to find – or create – a solution that enables Scotland’s distinctive voice to be heard and our interests to be protected within the UK. Or we can consider again the option of independence.
“I don’t underestimate the challenge of finding such a solution – but to those who want to rule out the possibility of success before we even try, I would say two things.
“Firstly, we live in unprecedented times. When Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was drafted, it would have been considered inconceivable that any country would ever vote to exercise it. But that has now happened and, beyond a few lines of text, there are no rules for what happens next. The territory is uncharted, the page is blank. That gives us an opportunity to be innovative and creative – an opportunity to shape the future.
“The second point I would make to those – particularly in the UK government – who are at pains to say how highly they value the union, is this:
“Now is the time to do more than just assert – against the evidence to the contrary – that the union works for Scotland – it is surely time now to find ways to demonstrate that Scotland’s voice can be heard, our wishes accommodated and our interests protected within the UK.
“It seems to me that the UK government now has a responsibility – indeed a vested interest – to do so.”