Scotland readies referendum bill as back-up plan
By Eszter Zalan
The Scottish government will begin preparing legislation necessary for a new referendum on independence from the UK in case it is needed, first minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Holyrood parliament on Tuesday (6 September).
However, it would remain a back-up plan as negotiations are ongoing with the UK on how to exit the EU with maintaining the benefits of EU membership for Scotland.
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“To ensure that all options are open to us, this programme for government makes clear that we will consult on a draft referendum bill, so that it is ready for immediate introduction if we conclude that independence is the best or only way to protect Scotland's interests,” Sturgeon said at the introduction of her government’s programme.
Scotland voted to remain in the EU in the June referendum, but the overall vote in the UK came out in favour of Brexit.
In the wake of the shock referendum result, an outraged Sturgeon told reporters it was “highly likely” that an independence vote would take place within two years.
The Scottish prime minister said at the time she would hold a second referendum on Scottish independence if she could not protect Scotland’s EU interests, such as free movement of people and access to the single market, within the UK framework.
Since June the independence furore has calmed down.
UK prime minister Theresa May travelled to Edinburgh in mid-July to calm nerves and pledge to include all of the UK, including Scotland in outlining a negotiating position with the EU.
The Scottish government’s programme confirms that Sturgeon will first seek to deal with the aftermath of the EU referendum through negotiations, but keeps the independence vote open.
Sturgeon’s government plans to publish a draft referendum bill for public consultation, “in order that it is ready for introduction” should the Scottish government conclude that it is the only way to protect Scottish interests.
“In the first instance, we will seek to positively influence the development of the UK government’s negotiating position ahead of Article 50 being triggered, to ensure that options for Scotland to maintain our relationship with Europe are developed and considered,” the government’s programme reads.
“However, if it appears that the best – or only – way to protect our interests is to consider afresh the question of independence, it is essential that such an option is available to the Scottish Parliament,” it says, explaining the need for the referendum bill.