Sturgeon launches referendum Bill and challenges May to honour old promises


Report by Patience Magill

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced plans to publish an independence referendum Bill next week, challenging the UK Government to protect Scotland’s place in Europe and honour the clear majority that supported Remain last June, despite the overall UK vote to leave the EU.

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon

Speaking at the opening of the SNP autumn conference in Glasgow, the First Minister castigated Prime Minister Theresa May and the right-wing Tories who supported ‘Brexit’ and declared uncompromising position at the Conservative conference at Birmingham last week.

Here are edited highlights of Sturgeon’s speech, where she began by describing a”a better Scotland” that cherishes diversity and avoids judging people “on the country of their birth or the colour of their passport”. She continued:

“The contrast with the Westminster government couldn’t be more stark. Last week, in Birmingham, we heard an intolerance towards those from other countries that has no place in a modern, multicultural, civilised society.

“Last week, we saw the Tories adopt UKIP policy and Farage-style rhetoric – lock, stock and beer-barrel. It was a disgrace. It shames the Tory party and all who speak for it. But make no mistake – the right wing of the Tory party is now in the ascendancy and it is seeking to hijack the referendum result.

“Brexit has become Tory Brexit. The rampant right wing of the party are using it as license for the xenophobia that has long lain under the surface – but which is now in full, unlovely view. They are using the result as cover for a hard Brexit for which they have no mandate – but which they are determined to impose, regardless of the ruinous consequences. 

“They intend to do all of this with no parliamentary authority. Virtually no scrutiny whatsoever.

“And to do it with complete disregard for Scotland’s democratic voice. That is simply not acceptable.


Last week, the Prime Minister told us that how important it was to respect the democratic mandate of the people. I agree. Which is why I say this to her today – it’s high time you showed some respect for the 62% of people across Scotland who voted to Remain.

“Of course, I know that one million of our fellow citizens voted to Leave. They did so for a range of legitimate reasons and as First Minister, I have a duty to listen to, to understand and to respond to these reasons. But I suspect that many of those who voted to Leave, look now at the actions and rhetoric of the Tories and think ‘that’s not what I voted for’.

“They may have voted to take back control. But I can’t imagine many of them voted to hand control to the unholy trinity of Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox – three men in a Brexit boat who haven’t got a paddle between them. No, I don’t believe people voted for that.

“Our single most important job is to protect Scotland’s interests.  Our democratic interests. Our economic interests.  Our interests in social protection and solidarity.  And our interest in influencing the world we live in.

“There is no doubt that Brexit is a defining issue of our time – for Scotland and for the UK.

“It looms over everything. How could it not, given the implications for our economy, our society, our security and our place in the world?

“I can confirm today that SNP MPs will vote against the Brexit Bill when it come before the House of Commons next year. That Bill will repeal the legislation that enacted our EU membership. Scotland didn’t vote for that and so neither will our MPs.

“We know that Brexit will damage our economy. Hard Brexit – removal, not just from the EU, but from the single market as well – will be disastrous. The Treasury estimates that the cost to the UK economy could be £66 billion. Here in Scotland 80,000 jobs could be lost. Wages would be hit by up to £2000 and growth in the economy would slow.

“There is no rational case for taking the UK out of the single market. And there is no authority for it either.

“How many times did we hear prominent Leave campaigners assure us during the referendum campaign that leaving the EU did not mean leaving the single market?


“The Conservative Party manifesto, on which Theresa May and every other Tory MP was elected, couldn’t have been clearer. It said this: “We say yes to the Single Market.” But now we face a hard Brexit imposed by the hard right of the Tory party.

“We will also assert the right of the Scottish Parliament to have its say. 

“After the No vote in 2014 we were told the Sewel Convention – which means the UK Parliament can’t make law in devolved areas without the consent of the Scottish Parliament – would be sacrosanct.

“Every party signed up to this. Now it seems the Tories are reneging. They want to rip-up the Smith report. They need to understand this – Scotland’s Parliament is the democratic heartbeat of our nation.  To deny it the right to give or withhold its consent on an issue of such magnitude would be an act of constitutional vandalism. It is not on.

“As well as Parliamentary action, over the next few weeks we will table specific proposals to protect Scotland’s interests in Europe and keep us in the single market – even if the rest of the UK decides to leave.

It’s clear that beyond hard-line rhetoric the UK Government has no detailed plan. So the Scottish Government will set out a plan for Scotland. We will seek to make this plan a key element of the UK’s Article 50 negotiation. 

“It will require substantial additional powers for the Scottish Parliament. All the powers in our areas of responsibility that currently lie with the EU – and significant new powers too. Powers to strike international deals. And greater powers over immigration. Powers not just to protect our economy, but also our values.

“Last week, we heard from the Prime Minister a disregard for Scotland’s democratic voice that was reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher.  High-handed pronouncements that dismiss Scottish opinion might delight the Tory Party conference – but they are no longer acceptable to mainstream Scotland.

“My message to the Prime Minister is this: Scotland didn’t choose to be in this situation – your party put us here. In 2014, you told us Scotland was an equal partner in the UK. Well, the moment has come to prove it. 

“But hear this – if you think for one single second that I’m not serious about doing what it takes to protect Scotland’s interests, then think again. If you can’t – or won’t – allow us to protect our interests within the UK, then Scotland will have the right to decide, afresh, if it wants to take a different path.

“A UK out of the single market – isolated, inward looking, haemorrhaging jobs, investment and opportunities – will not be the same country that Scotland voted to stay part of in 2014.

“On the morning after the referendum, I said I would protect Scotland’s ability to make that choice. In our Programme for Government, I committed to publishing a draft referendum bill. I am determined that Scotland will have the ability to reconsider the question of independence – and to do so before the UK leaves the EU – if that is necessary to protect our country’s interests.

“The Independence Referendum Bill will be published for consultation next week.


“When Scotland does come to take this decision again – whenever that might be – we must not take for granted how anyone will vote. It will be a new debate – not a rerun of 2014. 

“We must not assume that people’s views – yes or no – are the same today as they were two years ago. Instead we must engage the arguments with a fresh eye and an open mind. The case for independence will have to be made and won.

“But let’s never lose sight of this – We are one of the wealthiest nations on earth. We are rich in natural resources. We are world-leaders in life sciences, technology and renewables. We are at the cutting edge of advanced manufacturing. In tourism, and in food and drink we are unrivalled.    

“Our foundations are strong. So if the choice we face is an inward looking, insular, Brexit Britain, governed by a right wing Tory party, obsessed with borders and blue passports at the expense of economic strength and stability – rr a progressive, outward looking, internationalist Scotland, able to chart our own course and build our own security and prosperity, then know this – that is a case we will win.