Time is right for new conversation on independence, Nicola Sturgeon says
Nicola Sturgeon has declared the time is right for the SNP to lead a "new conversation" on independence.
The Scottish First Minister launched what she described as the "biggest-ever political listening exercise", with the goal of speaking to two million voters before the end of November.
A dedicated website has been set up to gauge opinion on Europe, Brexit and independence while the SNP leader has also instructed all her MPs and MSPs to hold town-hall meetings on the issue.
In addition to this, Ms Sturgeon announced the SNP would establish a party growth commission, which will look at the prospects for Scotland's economy and also consider key matters such as currency.
While she accepted that opting to leave the UK " would be a big decision", the First Minister said: " I believe it is right that our party does now lead a new conversation on independence."
Her speech in Stirling on Friday morning took place almost two years after the September 2014 referendum, which saw Scots vote by 55% to 45% in favour of remaining in the United Kingdom.
Ms Sturgeon said all polls since then had shown increased support for independence and added: "I suspect support for independence will be even higher if it becomes clear it is the best or only way to protect our interests."
She stressed the campaign by her party " will be a new debate, it will not be a rerun of 2014".
She added: " The UK that Scotland voted to stay part of has changed and so to have the arguments for and against independence."
A "double whammy" of two "seismic events" over the summer has dramatically changed the political landscape, she argued.
Ms Sturgeon highlighted the uncertainty caused by the vote to leave the European Union (EU) in June, saying Scotland now faced the prospect "not just of being taken out of the EU against our will but being taken out of the single market altogether".
She warned this would cause deep, permanent damage to the economy and told Theresa May: "As First Minister, I am not prepared to stand by and watch that happen without a battle.
"My message to the Prime Minister is this: You may have a mandate in England and Wales to leave the EU but you do not have a clear mandate to take any part of the UK out of the single market."
She also claimed Labour's decision "to press the self-destruct button" left the country facing "years, perhaps decades, of Tory government".
The SNP leader stated: "There is now the very real possibility we are witnessing the end of Labour as a force to be reckoned with in British politics, perhaps the end of the Labour Party full stop."