Sturgeon heads to Brussels in fight to keep Scotland in EU

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Katielee Arrowsmith
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Katielee Arrowsmith
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NICOLA Sturgeon was heading for Brussels today for talks with key EU players in a bid to find a way of securing Scotland’s place in Europe.

The First Minister is due to meet European Parliament president Martin Schulz and representatives of the major political groups in the parliament.

Scotland voted 62-38 per cent to stay in the EU in contrast to the overall UK vote of 52-48 per cent for Leave.

She told MSPs yesterday that removing Scotland from the EU against the will of its citizens would be “democratically unacceptable”.

She said: “Scotland spoke clearly for Remain and I am determined that Scotland’s voice will be heard.

“I want to be clear to parliament that whilst I believe that independence is the best option for Scotland, it is not my starting point in these discussions. My starting point is to protect our relationship with the EU.”

But Ms Sturgeon said the referendum result had brought about a “very real and material change in Scotland’s circumstances”.

She said: “Everything must be on the table to protect our place in Europe - including a second independence referendum.”

The First Minister said the Scottish Government was directly in touch with the governments of other EU member states, both to assure them their citizens were welcome in Scotland and to make clear Scotland’s commitment to maintaining its relationship with Europe.

She has also discussed the situation with Irish president Michael D Higgins, who is currently on a visit to Scotland, as well as the Taoiseach, the London Mayor and the Chief Minister of Gibraltar.

She also announced the establishment of a standing council of experts - chaired by academic Anton Muscatelli and including top economist John Kay, Lothians-based Labour MEP David Martin, former European judge Sir David Edward and ex-Nato ambassador Dame Marriot Leslie among others - to provide advice to the Scottish Government on the best way of protecting Scotland’s place in Europe.

Holyrood’s presiding officer Ken Macintosh told MSPs he may recall parliament during the summer to respond to the emerging situation in Europe.

He said: “The consequences of the EU referendum for Scotland are clearly complex and will take some time to fully emerge.

“I am determined that the parliament is able to play a full role in this process, that we are able to be a voice and able to provide a platform for every voice in this debate to scrutinise the reactions of the government in this matter.

“I am determined that the parliament is able to respond to events as they develop and I have therefore instructed the parliamentary authorities to ensure that resources are available over the summer recess if necessary to support the recall of parliament should I deem it necessary.”

In the debate that followed Ms Sturgeon’s statement on the EU referendum result, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said that while she was “deeply disappointed” by the Brexit vote, she believed Scotland was better-placed to face up to future challenges as part of the UK.

She called on Ms Sturgeon to negotiate on Scotland’s behalf as part of the UK rather than unilaterally.

She said: “If the Scottish Government wants to explore Scotland’s options within the United Kingdom, then we can support her in that.”

But she claimed that within hours of the result becoming clear, the Scottish Government had pushed questions of independence front and centre.”

She said: “The First Minister speaks of people in Scotland who are worried and outraged at the EU result.

“I feel duty-bound to speak up for the many people in Scotland who have contacted myself and my colleagues in the last few days to say they too are worried, deeply worried, about the prospect of another referendum on independence.

“You do not dampen the shockwaves caused by one referendum by lighting the fuse for another.”

Ms Davidson, MSP for Edinburgh Central, said her arguments in favour of a No vote in 2014 were not based just on economic risks but also on the belief “that we in Britain had more in common than that which divides us”.

She said: “I know many people are hurt by last week’s result - including some who voted No in 2014. I am one of them. But the lessons of last week’s referendum are not a simple ‘them and us’ . Not when a million of our countrymen voted to leave too. The lessons are far more profound.

“Do we have more in common across the UK than that which divides us? Yes - we have way, way, too much in common - people who feel disempowered and voiceless, anger at the way power has been abused, in politics, finance and the media, frustration at a lack of access and of barriers to social mobility and a growing sense of insecurity among families who feel the world is passing them by.

“These are the questions we should be answering - not repeating the same old arguments of the past.”

Scottish Labour leader and Lothian MSP Kezia Dugdale said her party backed Ms Sturgeon’s efforts to strengthen Scotland’s ties with its European neighbours and allies,

She said: “The priority must be securing jobs and the rights of workers.

“All options for protecting Scotland’s place in the single market must be explored, including a federalised United Kingdom which could see those nations of the UK who voted to remain, retain their membership or achieve associated status.”

Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie backed the First Minister’s preparations for another independence referendum.

He said: “It may be that after exploring all options, far more people than voted Yes in 2014 may conclude that independence is the only way to achieve it. The 2014 result is now fundamentally superseded. People who voted in 2014 did so on a false prospectus, a false promise that their membership of the EU would be protected in those circumstances and it has not been.”

Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs, who campaigned to stay in the EU, pointed out Edinburgh had recorded the highest Remain vote anywhere in Scotland.

But he said: “It is now incumbent on all parties across the UK and all nations within the United Kingdom to unite, seek stability and work towards achieving the best possible deal for the whole of the UK.

“Whilst the First Minister’s immediate reaction to the EU referendum was to put a second independence referendum on the table, the constituents and businesses who have contacted me over the past few days have overwhelmingly said that another independence referendum is the very last thing Scotland and the UK needs in these circumstances – I agree.

“We will now face critical negotiations that will determine our new relationship with the countries that make up the EU. The aim must be to protect and maximise Scottish trade within the European Union area and ensure continued access to the single market.

“I believe it is vital the UK now looks at all options including the European Economic Area – this would continue to provide for the free movement or persons, goods, services and capital within the EU.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com