The Scottish First Minister’s comments over the weekend that she would be happy with “around spring 2019” for a referendum were seized on by Scottish Labour leader Kez Dugdale as evidence that she is “retreating”.
It came as the First Minister yesterday formally laid down a motion calling for a referendum between Autumn 2018 and spring 2019 despite polls showing that a majority of Scots neither want a referendum or support independence.
Ms Sturgeon said: “If MSPs pass this motion this week, then the Prime Minister’s position of blocking a referendum and forcing through a hard Brexit without giving the people a choice will be democratically indefensible.”
It is a reasonable and rational position to hold. Scotland is saying loud and clear to Nicola Sturgeon – now is not the time
But the SNP leader was attacked for refusing to respect the result of the 2014 referendum and wanting to put Scotland through another period of deep division.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “We all had a vote on our membership of the UK three years ago. The SNP promised to respect that result. Yet now Nicola Sturgeon is using Brexit as an excuse to take us back to the division and uncertainty of the past.
“We believe a referendum cannot happen while the Brexit process is being played out. And we believe a referendum should not happen when there is no public or political consent for it to happen.
“It is a reasonable and rational position to hold. Scotland is saying loud and clear to Nicola Sturgeon – now is not the time.”
On a visit to Westminster yesterday, Ms Dugdale mocked Ms Sturgeon’s apparent retreat from pushing for a referendum before Brexit is complete.
She said: “You couldn’t possibly have it before Brexit and you have seen a real change in Nicola Sturgeon’s language in the last 24 hours around that.
“When she first set out her timing she said between autumn 2018 and spring of 2019 before Brexit but in the motion they have just released for tomorrow’s debate in parliament she said around spring of 2019.
“So she is no longer wedded or tied to the idea that it would happen before the UK left the EU; that’s a very significant concession and points to the fact that any future referendum is now likely to happen post Brexit.”
She also pointed out that Ms Sturgeon’s claims that the “will of the Scottish Parliament” must be respected showed rank hypocrisy by the First Minister who has ignored five Scottish Government defeats in Holyrood.
She said: “You will hear a lot about the will of the Scottish Parliament after the vote on Wednesday.
“There are at least five occasions where Nicola Surgeon has ignored the will of the Scottish Parliament.
“Her entire record on education was rejected by the Scottish Parliament and she ignored that; she chose not to act as a result of that. The Parliament voted to protect and save many hospitals in Scotland and she is ignoring that; she is proceeding with plans to close those. The Parliament voted to oppose fracking and yet she remains unclear on her position on that. And again on Islands and Highlands Enterprise and indeed the Scottish Funding Council.”
Ms Dugdale also attacked the Scottish Greens for having “no integrity” over their decision to ditch their manifesto promise to only support a referendum if there was clear majority support in Scotland or a petition signed by 1 million Scots.
Instead a petition opposing the referendum demand has hit almost 200,000 signatures while one supporting it attracted less than 5,000.
Ms Dugdale said: “I’m disappointed. He often stands in parliament and talks about his integrity and his principles being far greater than the people who surround him.”
“It is not the first time they have propped up the SNP, I look at the Green party in Scotland and I see a a nationalist party first and foremost and round 23 or 24 on tier list of priorities you find their environmental credentials. It is Labour that has been making the envrionment case in the Scottish parliament on fracking and these other issues.”