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'Soft' Brexit could see independence vote off table in short term - Sturgeon

A "soft" Brexit could take the prospect of a second referendum on Scottish independence off the table in the short term, Nicola Sturgeon has suggested.

The First Minister said she believed independence was the "direction of travel" for Scotland but was willing to put it aside as her preferred option in order to seek "consensus and compromise" over Brexit.

In the days following the vote to leave the European Union (EU), Ms Sturgeon said a second referendum on independence was ''highly likely'' given the majority support for remain in Scotland and a consultation on a draft Bill that could bring about a second vote on the issue closes next week.

The Scottish Government has also published proposals aimed at protecting Scottish interests in Europe, which include options to allow the counry to remain in the single market even if the rest of the UK leaves, and the transfer of significant powers to Holyrood.

The First Minister told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland Programme: "We want to try to work with others across the UK across the political spectrum to try to keep the UK in the single market.

"If that can't be done, then we want to explore ways - and we've put forward how we think this can be done - of keeping Scotland in the single market while continuing to protect free trade across the rest of the UK and said very clearly, of course, that would require additional powers for the Scottish Parliament."

Ms Sturgeon said she believed there was consensus building around some of those additional powers, including immigration.

She continued: "We've put forward very detailed plans about how we avoid a hard Brexit and the reason it's important to avoid a hard Brexit, let's not forget, is because that will have a devastating impact on our economy and on jobs.

"So, I've, in a sense, been willing and am willing to put aside my preferred option of independence in the EU to see if we can explore a consensus and compromise option."

Asked whether talk of a second independence referendum would come off the table in the event of a "soft" Brexit, Ms Sturgeon said: "I'm never going to stop arguing for independence.

"I think Scotland will become independent and I think that's the direction of travel. But we're talking at the moment in the context of the Brexit vote."

Pressed on whether it would be put aside in the short term, she added: "In terms of the timescale of Brexit, that's what I've been very clear about.

"Am I going to stop arguing for independence or believing in independence? Am I going to stop believing Scotland is on a journey to independence? No.

"But we're talking here in the particular context and timescale of Brexit, and I'm putting these proposals forward in good faith.

"I'm deliberately saying 'put my preferred option to one side and asking people if we can find a consensus and compromise option'."

A second independence referendum is backed by the Greens but opposed by Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: "Scotland is kept in limbo as Nicola Sturgeon tries to find an escape route after marching her troops to the top of a mountain, but still keeping the threat of a second referendum on the table as a possibility for the future.

"The First Minister should act in the interests of the whole country by recognising the decision Scotland made just two years ago and respecting that result."

Scottish Labour MSP Iain Gray said: "After reading the polls which show that Scots are opposed to her plan for a second independence referendum, Nicola Sturgeon could be forgiven for wanting to back away from another referendum.

"But the First Minister could clear up any doubt about her intentions by ruling out another referendum altogether. The vast majority of people in Scotland don't want to go through another referendum."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "By playing a never-ending game of will she-won't she on another independence referendum Nicola Sturgeon is in danger of inflicting considerable and damaging economic uncertainty on Scotland."

Ms Sturgeon later tweeted it was a "reasonable assessment" that a second independence referendum currently appeared more likely than a soft Brexit, but said the Scottish Government proposals had been "put forward in good faith", adding "Ball is in PM court".

Scottish Green external affairs spokesman, Ross Greer MSP, said: "It is clear that the only way to guarantee our European future, defend workers' rights, environmental protections and our freedom of movement is as an independent nation within the European Union.

"We can't leave ourselves without that option if Theresa May's government ignores the wishes of Scotland, as we expect. Scotland did not vote to leave the European Union and we should not be forced to choose the least worst of the options available."

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