NICOLA Sturgeon will today tell the Prime Minister she will “shatter beyond repair” the idea that the UK is a partnership of equal nations if she turns down a request from Holyrood for a second independence referendum.
MSPs are expected to back the First Minister’s call for a Section 30 order to be granted when MSPs vote on the issue on Wednesday.
The move would then see the Scottish Parliament formally request that Westminster grants it the authority to hold a legally binding referendum.
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But today the First Minister will tell the SNP Spring Conference in Aberdeen that if the vote is passed – as expected – next week, the demand for another independence ballot will become “the will of the democratically-elected Parliament of Scotland”.
She will say: “To stand in defiance of it would be for the Prime Minister to shatter beyond repair any notion of the UK as a respectful partnership of equals.”
The First Minister seized the political initiative on Monday taking the UK Government by surprise with her announcement that she wants a second independence referendum to be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.
The timescale would coincide with the end of the Brexit negotiations, when it will be clear what type of relationship, if any, the UK will have with the EU, but before the UK leaves the bloc.
The thinking is that if there is a Yes vote in this period it could allow Scotland to maintain EU links without having to come out of the bloc, possibly taking over the mantle of UK membership.
With the UK having voted to leave the EU in 2016 and Scotland voting to stay part of the bloc, Sturgeon will insist the future “looks very different” than it did in 2014 when Scotland said No to independence.
Closing the SNP conference, she will say: “We know change is coming. The EU referendum has made sure of that. The only question is what kind of change.”
She will insist Scots are “not powerless” and can “still decide which path we take”.
And she will continue: “Whatever our different opinions on independence, we can all unite around this simple principle – Scotland’s future must be Scotland’s choice.”
The SNP manifesto for the 2016 Holyrood election set out the prospect of a second independence referendum if there was a “material change in circumstances” in the UK, such as Scotland being removed from the EU “against its wishes”.
The First Minister will tell SNP delegates and members: “Next week... we will ask the Scottish Parliament to agree that the Scottish people should have the right to choose our own future.
“We will ask Parliament to agree that this choice should be exercised at a time when we know the terms of Brexit but before it is too late to take a different path.
“And we will ask Parliament’s permission to seek the legal authority that will allow the people of Scotland to have that choice.
“If a majority in the Scottish Parliament endorses that position, the Prime Minister should be clear about this. At that point a fair, legal, agreed referendum – on a timescale that will allow the people of Scotland an informed choice – ceases to be just my proposal, or that of the SNP. It becomes the will of the democratically-elected Parliament of Scotland.”
She will tell the Prime Minister: “If her concern is timing then – within reason – I am happy to have that discussion.”
May indicated on Friday she would not give consent to Holyrood to hold a referendum during the timeframe put forward by Sturgeon.
The Prime Minister said: “It is now clear that using Brexit as the pretext to engineer a second independence referendum has been the SNP’s sole objective ever since last June.
“The fact that more Scottish voters backed Scotland staying in the UK in 2014 than supported the UK staying in the EU in 2016, and that almost half a million independence supporters actually backed Brexit last year, seems to count for nothing.”
During her speech Sturgeon is also expected to announce £36 million of loans for digital skills training for Scottish businesses as part of a drive to improve economic productivity.
The Digital Growth Fund will provide loans to up to 18,000 people in three years, aimed at increasing proficiency in areas such as cyber security, data analytics and software engineering.
“Recent studies estimate that the economy needs 12,800 new workers with digital skills each year,” she is due to say.
“Despite this, our last digital economy survey found that only around a quarter of businesses were doing anything to develop current employees’ digital technology skills.
“We need to change that. Scotland cannot afford to ignore this prize. That’s why we will now boost our support for digital skills.”