Nicola Sturgeon: Europe proposals a genuine attempt to unify the country
Nicola Sturgeon has published detailed proposals to keep Scotland in the European single market, stating they are a “serious and genuine attempt” to “unify the country around a clear plan”.
The options outlined in the paper – Scotland’s Place in Europe – represent a “significant compromise” on the part of the Scottish Government, the First Minister said.
“I hope and expect that the UK Government in considering these proposals will demonstrate the same flexibility and willingness to compromise,” she said.
A Downing Street spokesman said the UK Government would “look closely” at the paper.
Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems warned against it being used by the SNP to push for a second independence vote.
Ms Sturgeon has made it clear that Scotland must retain access to the single market under any Brexit deal after the majority of Scots voted to remain in the EU in the June referendum.
“We are determined to maintain Scotland’s current position in the European single market,” she said.
The Scottish Government has firstly proposed the UK as a whole should stay in the single market by remaining “a party to the European Economic Area agreement” and staying in the customs union.
A so-called “soft-Brexit” deal is “entirely democratically justifiable”, Ms Sturgeon said, although she conceded it seems an “unlikely outcome”.
The paper also outlines ways in which Scotland could stay in the single market – through the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA) – even if the rest of the UK chooses to leave.
Ms Sturgeon insisted this option did not prioritise membership of the single market over continued free trade across the UK, but would “safeguard both” and would not require a hard border.
Under this option, Scotland would be outside the customs union if the UK decides to leave it and would require powers over immigration to be devolved to Holyrood.
She said: “There will be those who say a differentiated option for Scotland such as the one we propose would be too difficult to achieve – and as I have said, the paper does not underestimate the challenges.
“The negotiations ahead will be characterised by a need to find practical solutions to a range of complex issues.
“It is in that spirit that we seek to find solutions that will respect the voice and protect the interests of Scotland.”
The paper also argues that, whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the devolution settlement should be “fundamentally revised”.
Powers over fishing and farming should be repatriated from Brussels to Holyrood while areas such as employment law, immigration and powers to strike international agreements should also be devolved.
“It is beyond any doubt that the Brexit vote – with its different outcomes in different parts of the UK – has raised fundamental questions, not just about our relationship with Europe but also about how political power is exercised across the UK,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“So, to the Westminster government, I say this – your response to these proposals will tell us much, perhaps everything, about whether the UK is, in reality, the partnership of equals you claim it to be.”
The option of a second referendum on independence remains on the table but talk of another vote was played down.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The day after the referendum in June, I made a clear commitment.
“I promised to explore – not just my preferred option of independence – but all options to protect Scotland’s place in and relationship with Europe.
“I said specifically that we would seek to find a solution that would enable Scotland’s voice to be heard and our interests protected from within the UK. This paper fulfils that commitment.”
The paper is expected to be discussed in detail when the UK Government and devolved administrations meet at the Joint Ministerial Committee in January.
The Downing Street spokesman said: “The Government is committed to getting a deal on exiting the EU that works for all parts of the UK – which clearly includes Scotland – and works for the UK as a whole.
“The best way for that to be achieved is for the Government and devolved administrations to work together.”
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said: ”Nicola Sturgeon talks about compromise but written in black and white in her own report is her true intention – she wants independence in Europe.”
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale added: ”If Nicola Sturgeon really wants to unite the country, she should take this opportunity to rule out another independence referendum.”
The Lid Dems claimed the paper was “window dressing” for independence but the Scottish Greens – who back independence – described the plans as “the maximum limit of compromise”.