Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of backtracking on her threat of a second independence referendum ahead of the publication of her government’s programme for the coming year.
The First Minister extended an offer to work in “coalition” with ministers in the UK government to secure a deal for a “soft Brexit”, prompting claims she had “shifted the goalposts” on her aim of Scottish independence.
Her comments came as the UK government minister in charge of Brexit taunted the SNP over its threat of a new independence vote, saying they could not win a second referendum if it was called.
Ms Sturgeon said she feared Prime Minister Theresa May was heading towards a “hard Brexit” that included leaving the European single market so that limits on EU immigration could be imposed.
She said she wanted to build “a coalition across the UK that gets the UK into a more sensible position” on Brexit. “I think that’s worth a good try because Theresa May, she was on the Remain side, so presumably she knows the real risks of removal from the single market,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“Let’s have a try at getting the UK not into the best position – because the best position in my view would be continued membership of the EU – but let’s try and get the UK as a whole into the least worst position and that means staying in the single market.”
She initially said that maintaining our full membership of the EU would be the only acceptable outcome Now it is only about access to the single marketLewis Macdonald, Scottish Labour Europe spokesman
Michael Russell, the Scottish Government minister charged with negotiating Scotland’s place in Europe, reiterated that position last night, saying a failure to retain full membership of the single market would have “very severe economic consequences”.
Scottish Government officials insisted the position on whether to hold a second independence referendum had not changed despite the offer to work with Mrs May, who supported remaining in the EU.
However, opposition parties said the First Minister was “changing her tune” because a post-Brexit surge in support for independence had failed to materialise.
Scottish Labour Europe spokesman Lewis Macdonald said: “It is clear that remaining in the single market is vital for the economic interests of all parts of the UK as all of the devolved administrations in the UK have said.
“However this is a definite shifting of the goalposts from the First Minister, who initially said that maintaining our full membership of the EU would be the only acceptable outcome. Now it is only about access to the single market. The people of Scotland deserve to know why the First Minister is changing her tune.”
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “Ever since the Brexit vote, we have urged Nicola Sturgeon to work closely with the UK government to secure the best deal for Scotland.
“She appears to have belatedly come round to this view, after realising more threats of another independence referendum are becoming increasingly unpopular.”
A YouGov poll last week showed that just 37 per cent of Scots want a second referendum, compared to 50 per cent who are opposed. Just 11 per cent of respondents said independence should be a priority for the Scottish Government.
Addressing MPs, Brexit Secretary David Davis suggested the SNP knew it would not win a second independence referendum.
“They would still lose today, because after the Brexit referendum, what do we see - do the Scottish people want a second referendum? No they don’t.”