Nicola Sturgeon has defended her plans to stage a second referendum on independence, insisting she has a “duty” to offer Scots an alternative to a “disastrous” hard Tory Brexit.
The First Minister came under fire at Holyrood after Monday’s bombshell announcement, with the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats joining forces to condemn her plans at First Minister’s Questions.
Tory leader Ruth Davidson told the SNP leader: “The Scottish Conservatives reject the proposal set out by the First Minister on Monday. A referendum cannot happen when the people of Scotland have not been given the opportunity to see how our new relationship with the European Union is working.
“And it should not take place when there is no clear public or political consent for it to happen.
“Our country does not want to go back to the divisions and uncertainty of the last few years. Another referendum campaign will not solve the challenges this country will face. We don’t want it, we don’t need it.”
The First Minister has already outlined proposals to hold a second referendum sometime between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of 2019.
She said: “The reality here is quite simple, I want to give people in Scotland a choice over their own future.
“We know that change is coming, the EU referendum last year made that change inevitable. We know that the Tories want to lead us off a hard Brexit cliff-edge.
“I think the people of Scotland should not simply have to accept being told what their future should be by a Conservative Government that we don’t support. We should have the choice to choose a better future, and that’s a choice I intend to give to the people of Scotland.”
While Ms Davidson campaigned to stay part of the European Union in 2016, the First Minister said the Tory now “tells us we’ve simply got to accept Brexit – not just Brexit but a hard Brexit – regardless of the consequences”.
Ms Sturgeon continued: “We know that the path the Tories are trying to take this country down could cost every household in this country more than £5,000.
“The impact of Brexit on everybody in our country is going to be disastrous and that’s why I have a duty to allow people the choice to opt for something better.”
Ms Davidson insisted: “The truth is a referendum won’t help pupils in Scotland and it won’t help patients come off waiting lists and it won’t help solve the GP crisis and it won’t cut violent crime.
“It will just take this Government away from the day job which is supposed to be its focus.”
She told MSPs reports had suggested “an independent Scotland would be £11 billion in the red and would need higher taxes, lower spending and increased borrowing”.
But Ms Sturgeon argued a deficit had been built up by Labour and Conservative administrations in London.
“That is a deficit created on Westminster’s watch and it is about time we had the tools and the ability to work our way out of deficits that Tory and Labour governments have created in Scotland,” she said.
“I think Scotland deserves a choice and that choice is this – take control of our own finances to build, grow and innovate our way to a better future or allow Tories to make the same mistakes over and over again, and make the situation worse.”
After the Tories challenged her mandate to hold a fresh independence referendum, Ms Sturgeon said: “I was elected as First Minister a year ago with the highest constituency share of the vote in the history of devolution on a manifesto commitment that says this Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if the Tories tried to drag us out of Europe against our will.
“That 46% share of the vote is 10 percentage points higher than the 36% share that the Tories used to have the EU referendum in the first place.
“This Parliament has an independence majority in it as well.
“So Ruth Davidson says she wants to put this Parliament first – let me issue this direct challenge to Ruth Davidson and the Conservative Party.
“If on Wednesday next week this Parliament votes for an independence referendum to give the people of Scotland a choice over their own future, will the Conservatives respect the will of this Parliament or are the Conservatives are running scared?”