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Sturgeon: Blocking referendum after MSPs' backing 'democratically indefensible'

Preventing Holyrood from holding a second independence referendum would be "democratically indefensible" if this is backed by a majority of MSPs, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has insisted

The SNP leader stressed Scots must be given an alternative to the Theresa's May "hard Brexit", which will take the UK out of both the European Union and the single market.

In last year's referendum, almost two thirds (62%) of voters north of the border backed keeping the UK in the EU. Ms Sturgeon is now pressing for another vote on independence to be held.

A parliamentary motion seeking support to call for permission for a second ballot has now been published and will be the focus of two days of debate in the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Government wants a referendum to take place between autumn next year and spring 2019, when it says there will be clarity over the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said "now is not the time" for another vote and has indicated that the UK Government would reject the SNP's preferred timetable.

The motion, put forward by the First Minister, asks the Scottish Parliament to acknowledge "the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs", and "mandate the Scottish Government to take forward discussions with the UK Government" on the details of a section 30 order - the mechanism to transfer the legal powers for a referendum.

The details of the order should ensure that Holyrood can legislate for a vote "at a time, and with a question and franchise, determined by the Scottish Parliament, which would most appropriately be between the autumn of next year, 2018, when there is clarity over the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and around the point at which the UK leaves the EU in spring 2019", the motion adds.

Although Ms Sturgeon leads a minority government, the support of the Scottish Greens means the motion is expected to be passed on Wednesday.

The First Minister said: "If MSPs pass this motion this week, then the Prime Minister's position of blocking a referendum and forcing through a hard Brexit without giving the people a choice will be democratically indefensible.

"I agree with the Prime Minister when she says that there needs to be clarity about the implications of Brexit before the people of Scotland can choose - that is precisely why we are proposing to hold the vote at the point where we know, through the Prime Minister's own statements, we will have that clarity.

"Ultimately, this crucial decision over our future should not be made unilaterally by me, or by the Prime Minister - it should be made by the people of Scotland, and I call on Parliament to give the people that choice."

Both the Conservatives and Scottish Labour made clear they would vote against the Scottish Government, with Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson saying the First Minister "is determined to fire the starting gun on another divisive referendum campaign this week".

The Conservative said this would be the "wrong course of action to take", insisting that a "clear majority of Scots say they don't want to go through the uncertainty of another referendum at this time"

Ms Davidson said: "We all had a vote on our membership of the UK three years ago. The SNP promised to respect that result. Yet now Nicola Sturgeon is using Brexit as an excuse to take us back to the division and uncertainty of the past.

"We believe a referendum cannot happen while the Brexit process is being played out. And we believe a referendum should not happen when there is no public or political consent for it to happen.

"It is a reasonable and rational position to hold. Scotland is saying loud and clear to Nicola Sturgeon - now is not the time."

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale also hit out at the First Minister, stating: "Nicola Sturgeon wakes up every single day thinking of ways to engineer another referendum because leaving the UK is the only thing that matters to her.

"The will of the Scottish people was very clearly expressed in 2014. 85% of our fellow citizens voted in the first referendum, and they voted by a very clear majority to remain in the United Kingdom.

"In 2014, this country was divided more than at any time in our recent history. Families argued, colleagues fell out and communities were split down the middle.

"We don't want to go back to that. Those who voted to leave the UK and the majority who voted to remain in the UK don't want to back to the divisions of the past.

"Scottish Labour believes that together we're stronger and the party I lead will never support independence."

Former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars suggested the SNP administration should aim to stage a second referendum in 2020/21, when the UK has left the EU.

"I think Theresa May is actually quite sensible, that you don't put in front of the Scottish people a choice of independence when we don't know what the Brexit deal is going to be," he said.

"What will matter to us in the Brexit deal is our biggest trading market, which isn't the European Union...but the rest of the UK."

Mr Sillars, who has been critical of the SNP's pro-EU stance, said achieving independence would be "much easier" when the UK has left the EU.

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