Scottish voters should be given the opportunity to vote again on independence before the next elections to the Edinburgh parliament in 2021, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said.
She said on Wednesday she will bring forward a Bill laying the groundwork for a fresh independence vote by the end of the year.
However, she conceded she would need a special Section 30 order -- permission from the London government -- to put “beyond doubt” Scotland’s ability to actually hold a referendum.
In a statement, she said: “A choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation should be offered in the lifetime of this parliament.
“I can confirm that the Scottish government will act to ensure that the option of giving people a choice on independence later in this term of parliament is progressed.”
She said Westminster has failed to protect Scotland’s interests and that the Scottish government is taking steps to rectify that by introducing legislation to set out rules for another vote.
“Throughout this, the Scottish government have worked tirelessly to help find the best way forward for all of the UK,” she said.
“Whatever Scotland’s constitutional status in the future, it will always be in our interests for these islands to have the closest possible relationship with the EU.
“We have done everything possible to help avert the Brexit crisis for the whole UK. And we will continue to do so.
“The Westminster system of government does not serve Scotland’s interests.”
Sturgeon said it had been the first available opportunity for her to provide an update since the EU granted a six-month extension to the Brexit process.
The First Minister added: “There are some who would like to see a very early referendum, others want that choice to be later.
“My job as First Minister is to reach a judgment, not simply in my party’s interest but in the national interest.
“To rush into an immediate decision before a Brexit path has been determined would not allow for an informed choice to be made.
“However if we are to safeguard Scotland’s interests we can not wait indefinitely.”
Her announcement came just before the SNP holds its spring conference in Edinburgh.
Sturgeon also announced plans to establish a Citizens Assembly to consider Scotland’s future. She said this had been done in Ireland to “help find consensus on issues where people have sharply divided opinions”.