CAMPAIGNERS are preparing for a fresh battle over independence after Nicola Sturgeon fired the starting gun for a new referendum.
The First Minister said Scotland deserved the choice of whether to follow the UK into a hard Brexit or to become an independent country.
And she wants to hold the referendum between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.
She said: “It is important that Scotland is able to exercise the right to choose our own future at a time when the options are clearer than they are now – but before it is too late to decide our own path.”
Green MSPs are expected to vote with the SNP next week to give her the Scottish Parliament’s authority to negotiate a Section 30 order with the UK government, transferring the power to hold a referendum to Holyrood.
In a speech at Bute House, Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government had worked hard in pursuit of a compromise agreement with UK ministers on Brexit, which would recognise Scotland’s 62 per cent vote in favour of remaining in the EU, but had been met with a “brick wall of intransigence”.
She said there had been talk of special deals for the car industry and others, but a “point blank refusal” to discuss a different approach for Scotland.
And she added: “If Scotland can be ignored on an issue as important as our membership of the EU and the single market, then it is clear that our voice and our interests can be ignored at any time and on any issue. That cannot be a secure basis on which to build a better Scotland.”
Ms Sturgeon said Brexit had made change inevitable.
“The option of ‘no change’ is no longer available. However, we can still decide the nature of that change.”
Prime Minister Theresa May said the plan for Indyref2 set Scotland on course for “more uncertainty and division”.
But it could be politically difficult for the UK government to refuse the request from the Scottish Parliament to allow a referendum to take place.
There has been speculation that Mrs May could agree to a referendum but insist it did not take place until 2020, after Brexit had happened.
Ms Sturgeon said such a stance would be unacceptable both in principle and on practical grounds. She said: “We set the precedent in 2014 that the details of an independence referendum should be for the people of Scotland to decide – that’s the principled argument.
“The practical reason is this – it’s really important that before people in Scotland are asked to make this choice they have clarity about what Brexit means, but equally if we are to have a genuine choice with the ability to choose a different course we cannot leave that choice until it’s too late for that to happen.”
Recent polls have shown Yes and No running close, with one survey at the weekend making them 50-50.
But Ms Sturgeon said she believed Scottish voters would back independence in a new referendum.
And asked about SNP supporters who were pro-Brexit, she said she respected the views of people who took a different view on EU membership. But she added: “There is a bigger issue at stake here – who decides Scotland’s future.
“I believe on that issue of democratic principle, whether an SNP supporter voted Remain or Leave, there will be strong support for Scotland exercising our choice to be in control of our own future.”
Professor James Mitchell of Edinburgh University said the chances of a Yes vote were higher now than in 2014.
He said: “I would have put money on it last time being a No vote, this time there is no doubt in my mind that the possibility of independence is greater than ever before. The European result has clearly fed into that and there is a clear sense that this is unresolved business.”
Scottish Tory leader and Edinburgh Central MSP Ruth Davidson accused Ms Sturgeon of ignoring the majority of Scots who did not want another referendum.
She said: “The First Minister’s proposal offers Scotland the worst of all worlds. Her timetable would force people to vote blind on the biggest political decision a country could face. This is utterly irresponsible and has been taken by the First Minister purely for partisan political reasons.”
Scottish Labour leader and Lothian MSP Kezia Dugdale also criticised Ms Sturgeon. She said: “With our country facing all of the uncertainty around the Tories’ reckless plans for a hard Brexit, the last thing we need is even more uncertainty and division.
“The reality is that leaving the UK would mean turbo-charged austerity for Scotland, putting the future of our schools and hospitals at risk.”