Sturgeon EU safeguard plan sets challenge for new Scottish Labour leader

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By a Newsnet reporter

Nicola Sturgeon today set out proposals aimed at preventing Britain from leaving the EU unless all four constituent parts of the UK vote to do so.

Setting out plans for a so-called ‘quadruple lock’ on EU membership, the First Minister in waiting called on pro-Union parties to back her plan.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to legislate for a straight In/Out referendum on EU membership should his party win the 2015 UK general election.

In her Corn Exchange speech tonight, Nicola Sturgeon (pictured) will announce that, should a referendum Bill be tabled in the House of Commons after the next UK general election, the SNP will table a simple amendment requiring that all four constituent parts of the UK – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – would have to vote for withdrawal for a UK exit to happen.

Sturgeon, who will replace Alex Salmond as leader of the SNP next month, said that she is writing to all parties across the UK to build support for the proposal.

Prime Minister David Cameron is committed to a referendum in 2017, and has indicted that he would be prepared to vote to leave the EU in certain circumstances.  Similarly, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has also said that he is prepared to vote for withdrawal, the first UK Foreign Secretary ever to do so.

Sturgeon pointed out that in the recent Scottish independence referendum, David Cameron described the UK as a “family of nations” – which implies that each member of the family should have its own voice in such a fundamental decision.

Launching the proposal tonight, Sturgeon will say:

“It is clear from recent by-elections in England that the anti-European politics of UKIP is on the rise.

“An in/out referendum on EU membership in 2017 now seems inevitable – almost regardless of who wins the general election next May.

“We also know from a range of polling evidence – including detailed academic analysis published last week – that it is entirely possible that the UK as a whole could vote to exit the EU, but that Scotland would vote to stay.”

The move could provide the next leader of the Scottish Labour party their first challenge.  It is widely expected that Jim Murphy will bid to become the new leader following the angry resignation of Johann Lamont last Friday. Murphy is expected to announce his candidacy before the end of this week, joining Sarah Boyack MSP in the race for the job that few in Labour relish.

Murphy has previously backed an In/Out EU referendum.  Speaking on the BBC in 2012, the Labour MP for Renfrewshire said he favoured a straight In/Out EU referendum.

He told presenter Andrew Neil: “I think at some point there will have to be a referendum on the European Union.”  He added: “I think at some point it is important we do have that referendum.”

Pressed on whether it should be an In/Out referendum, Mr Murphy said: “Instinctively I feel it should be an In/Out referendum.”

If successful in his bid to replace Lamont, there will be pressure on the Labour MP to back the SNP proposal and safeguard Scotland’s and the UK’s EU membership.

Sturgeon’s speech adds: “This proposal transforms the terms of the UK debate on Europe – which so far has been all about the Westminster parties dancing to UKIP’s tune.

“It would give proper protection against any of the nations of the UK being removed from the EU against their will.

“And it puts into practice what Westminster leaders told us was the case during the referendum campaign – that the UK is a family of nations, with each member of the family enjoying equal status.”