Nicola Sturgeon gave Theresa May a final ultimatum on Monday morning at a press conference at Bute House, ahead of her much anticipated speech at SNP Conference due this coming Saturday.
The First Minister knows that Article 50 could be invoked at any moment after the House of Commons passes the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill which will give the Prime Minister power to shoot the firing gun on the negotiations with the EU27. This could happen at the earliest of tomorrow, but by 31 March.
In a detailed speech she outlined the three steps the Scottish Government will take once Article 50 is invoked to give Scotland a choice between a hard Brexit and an alternative:
The first step will be to continue to stand up for Scotland’s interests during the negotiation period
The second step is that Scotland should have a choice between a hard Brexit and an alternative; therefore, the Scottish Government will begin the process of agreeing with the Scottish Parliament on the detail of a Section 30 Order of the Scotland Act (the process where the UK Government will be asked to allow a referendum) next week.
In terms of timing, the First Minister said that the Scottish Government must ensure the necessary time to prepare for a referendum once the implications of Brexit are clearer (likely by autumn 2018). A second Independence referendum would therefore take place between autumn 2018-spring 2019.
The third step would be to ensure that the Scottish people have an informed choice. The Scottish Government will work to ensure that the implications of a hard Brexit and an independent Scotland will be understood.
In terms of clarity on Scotland’s future membership of either the EU as a full member state or membership of the Single Market, the First Minister could not confirm the process by which these events could happen, but that the Scottish people must be given the choice between a choice of two futures.
Can the Scottish Government win a 2nd IndyRef?
Today’s announcement provides some future clarity on the Scottish Government’s approach, but this move was anticipated, largely because the First Minister has little choice but to follow this path. The announcement relieves some pressure ahead of her conference speech at the weekend, where many SNP supporters clearly expect some further certainty that a 2nd IndyRef will happen.
It remains a risk as polling does not give a huge amount of confidence that the SNP will win a second plebiscite.
During 3-7 March, Opinion Matters (Professor Curtice) undertook a poll to ask the Scottish public whether or not another referendum in justified in light of the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
When asked if a 2nd IndyRef is justified, 51% of those polled said No. 34% said Yes, while 14% said that they didn’t know. This might come as some comfort to Unionists, but the SNP remain in a strong position compared to the start of the process during for the 2014 vote. A poll in the Herald (BMG) today found support for independence at 52% No and 48% Yes.
The game has also changed since 2014; Scottish Labour is in a shambles and a resurgent Scottish Conservative party will ensure it’s a fight between the SNP and Ruth Davidson. The UK Government was also able to focus resources on the 2014 Referendum; this time around, with Brexit in full swing, the same will not apply.
The details of the Section 30 Order will be agreed next week. While a Section 30 Order would require consent from the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Green Party would provide Sturgeon sufficient votes. The focus will now shift to the UK Government once these are known and whether or not Theresa May will make any early views known on her willingness to entertain granting one.
Nicola Sturgeon hasn’t given concrete confirmation that a 2nd IndyRef will happen; this will only become known once a Section 30 Order is granted and specifically requested and when a specific date is given. However, it is looking ‘more likely’ as the First Minister has routinely mentioned since June 23rd 2016.