Nicola Sturgeon has announced she is putting plans for a second independence referendum on hold.
The 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 British 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 First Minister said many people “feel it is just too soon right now to make a decision about the precise timing of a referendum” but wish to have a say when there is clarity on Brexit. She added: “I am therefore confirming today that having listened and reflected, the Scottish Government will reset the plan I set out on March 13.
“We will not seek to introduce the legislation for an independence referendum immediately, instead we will in good faith redouble our efforts and put our shoulder to the wheel in seeking to influence the Brexit talks in a way that protects Scotland’s interests.” 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.”
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “The First Minister is digging her heels in, putting her fingers in her ears and pressing on regardless. She is just not listening.” Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said “absolutely nothing has changed” in Ms Sturgeon’s approach. “If she wants to prove she has listened, the First Minister should trigger a vote in this chamber which would rule out another independence referendum in this parliamentary term,” he said.
However, the Scottish Greens urged the First Minister not to retreat from her referendum timetable.
Co-convener Patrick Harvie said: “If the First Minister does not introduce a referendum bill until after autumn next year, how long will it be after we’ve been dragged out of Europe without having consented to it before the people of Scotland are even entitled to make their choice?”