Scotland politics

Sturgeon to set out indyref2 plans even if Brexit extended

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionNicola Sturgeon said: "I will make my views on the timing of a choice on independence clear."

Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to set out her plans for a second independence referendum "in the coming weeks" even if the Brexit deadline is extended.

The first minister and SNP leader had previously said she would have to wait for the "fog" around Brexit clears before she sets out a timetable.

But she told MSPs that she would speak soon, even if talks over Brexit are extended beyond the 29 March exit date.

The Tories said "now is not the time" for another independence referendum.

Supporters of independence gathered outside Holyrood while the MSPs were speaking, urging Ms Sturgeon to "activate the mandate" and call a referendum.

Ms Sturgeon called for a new independence vote in the aftermath of the EU referendum, which saw 62% of Scottish voters back remain only for the UK as a whole to vote to leave.

However, the SNP leader subsequently "reset" her timetable after her party lost 21 seats in the snap general election in 2017.

Having previously said she must "wait for the fog of Brexit to clear" before settling on a new plan, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs on Thursday that there was still "water to go under the bridge" on the issue of EU membership.

But she said she would set out her thoughts on the timing of a second independence referendum within "weeks".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Independence supporters gathered outside Holyrood on Thursday

Ms Sturgeon has also been campaigning for a new vote on Brexit, calling on Prime Minister Theresa May extend the current 29 March exit after MPs overwhelmingly rejecting her proposed withdrawal deal on Tuesday.

Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie, who also backs independence, asked the first minister if her planned update on independence would happen "even if Article 50 is extended".

Ms Sturgeon replied by simply saying "yes", before adding: "Of course, it could be that the extension of Article 50 is simply a reprieve from Brexit, not a solution to it.

"There is water to go under the bridge in the next number of weeks. When it has done so, I will make my views on the timing of a choice on independence clear.

"It is then, of course, for all of us who support independence - which certainly includes me and Patrick Harvie - to get out there and make the case."

'Now is not the time'

Mr Harvie said clarity was needed on independence in light of the "incompetent misrule from Westminster".

But Scottish Conservative interim leader Jackson Carlaw told the BBC there was "no way" a new referendum should be called.

He said: "As both Ruth Davidson and the prime minister have made clear, now is not the time.

"There is no public appetite for a second independence referendum, and I think it's ridiculous of the first minister to add yet further constitutional conflict when there's a tremendous amount of really challenging change the country has to face."

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionTheresa May rejected calls for a referendum in 2017, saying "we should be working together, not pulling apart"

Mr Carlaw was echoing the words of Mrs May when she rejected Ms Sturgeon's demands for a referendum prior to the 2017 election.

For the 2014 referendum, the governments in Edinburgh and London signed a "section 30 order" paving the way for the vote.

Such cooperation was not forthcoming when MSPs voted calling for a new referendum in 2017, but the standoff over the issue was dissipated when Ms Sturgeon put her plans on hold.

The first minister has previously downplayed the possibility of a "wildcat" referendum being held without the backing of the UK government, and has suggested that the SNP might instead need to win a fresh electoral mandate to break the impasse with UK ministers.

In November 2018, she told a meeting of the Women for Independence group: "Ultimately, if the only way through that is to take that to an election, and ask the people of Scotland to use an election to say 'No, we will have absolutely our right to choose', I think maybe that's what that will take."