Nicola Sturgeon to 'reset' independence referendum plan

Nicola Sturgeon has said she will “reset” her plans for a second referendum on Scottish independence.

The first minister had called for an independence referendum to be held in the autumn of 2018 or the spring of 2019.

But she has been considering her options since the SNP lost 21 seats in the election earlier this month.

Ms Sturgeon told Holyrood she would not “immediately” seek to introduce legislation for a referendum.

Instead, she said the Scottish government would delay the legislation until at least the autumn of next year – although it would still need the permission of the UK government for a legally binding vote to be held.

In the meantime, she said she would “redouble” her efforts to secure the best possible Brexit deal for Scotland, and to keep the country in the European single market.

However, Ms Sturgeon stressed that she continued to be “strongly committed” to Scotland having a choice on its future at the end of the Brexit process.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May had earlier urged Ms Sturgeon to take the possibility of a second referendum off the table completely.

And Unionist opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament claimed Ms Sturgeon had not gone far enough, and that “nothing has changed”.

However, the pro-independence Scottish Greens had urged the SNP leader not to back down on her referendum bid, and to “continue fighting” for another vote on the issue.

Ms Sturgeon has previously said that the prospect of an independence referendum was a factor in the election result, which saw her party’s share of the vote drop from 50% to 37%.

However, the SNP remained by far the largest party in Scotland after winning 35 of the country’s 59 seats at Westminster.

Ms Sturgeon said she had repeatedly been told during “hundreds” of conversations since the election that people were worried about the uncertainty caused by Brexit, and wanted a break from making big political decisions.

The first minister said people wanted greater clarity about the implications of Brexit to emerge before they reconsidered the independence question.

And she said people wanted the Scottish government to “focus as hard as we can on securing the best possible outcome for Scotland”.

‘Good faith’

Ms Sturgeon argued that the general election and the “weakness” of the UK government had “reopened the possibility, however narrow, of averting a hard Brexit and maintaining membership of the single market”.

She added: “I want to reassure people that our proposal is not for a referendum now, or before there is sufficient clarity about the options.

“But rather to give them a choice at the end of the Brexit process, when that clarity has emerged.

“I am therefore confirming today that having listened and reflected, the Scottish government will reset the plan I set out on 13 March.

“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 shoulders to the wheel in seeking to influence the Brexit talks in a way that protects Scotland’s interests.”

Analysis by Philip Sim, BBC Scotland political reporter

It has been quite a year for indyref2. Up until 23 June 2016, it was more or less off the table, or at least lurking somewhere underneath it.

Then Brexit changed everything, and Nicola Sturgeon immediately declared that independence was back in play.

Since then, her government has put together draft legislation, and secured Holyrood’s backing to ask for permission for such a vote.

That detail is important, because the headline hasn’t changed – Ms Sturgeon still wants a second independence referendum sometime at the end of the Brexit process – but the detail has.

There has been a “reset”: that legislation is going on ice until this time next year. In the meantime, the Scottish government will devote its attention to both the Brexit talks and matters domestic.

Are the SNP backing away from independence, or indyref2? No, of course not. Ms Sturgeon was quite clear that she believes she has a mandate for a vote in the current Holyrood term, so before 2021.

The timetable mooted in March this year has gone up in smoke, but otherwise this is not particularly earthshaking stuff.

The plans haven’t been deleted, they’ve been saved to drafts.

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.

“We will do everything we can to influence the UK in that direction,” Ms Sturgeon said.

She added that when negotiations with the EU are complete and “when the terms of Brexit will be clearer”, ministers would come back to the Scottish Parliament to “set out our judgment on the best way forward at that time”.

‘Same old songs’

Ms Sturgeon said this statement, which is likely to happen next autumn, would also set out the Scottish government’s view on “the precise timescale for offering people a choice over the country’s future”.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said Ms Sturgeon had failed to give people any assurance that she has been listening to them since the election.

Arguing that Ms Sturgeon was “in denial” and “leaking credibility”, the Tory leader added: “Her response hasn’t been to reflect.

“It has been simply to lash out at the UK government at every opportunity and to sing the same old songs in the same old tune.

“She now claims to be putting the referendum to one side. She should just give the country some certainty and take it off the table for the rest of this parliament at least.”

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