Nicola Sturgeon has played down the prospects of an early vote on Scottish independence by warning her supporters that “calm consideration” was needed first.
Scotland’s first minister told the US broadcaster PBS that it was too soon to be sure where Brexit would lead, adding that voters had a right to see “some clarity emerge” around the consequences of Brexit.
Her remarks will be seen as a rebuff to Scottish National party MPs and senior activists, including her predecessor Alex Salmond, who have been pressing Sturgeon to exploit the chaos around Brexit at Westminster by calling for a new independence vote now.
In a keynote speech during a visit to the US on Monday, Sturgeon told an audience at Georgetown University in Washington DC she believed the most pressing issue was delaying the date of EU withdrawal, currently due on 29 March, and holding a second referendum on EU membership.
She confirmed she would update Holyrood and Scottish voters on her thinking about a second independence vote in “in the next few weeks”, but later indicated on PBS’s flagship NewsHour current affairs programme the time for that vote was not yet right.
Asked by PBS when the appropriate time would be, Sturgeon said: “Well, I think we have to follow the process that is currently under way to reach some conclusion.
“What that conclusion will be remains to be seen. And then take a decision based on a calm consideration of what’s in Scotland’s best interests. And that’s what I would do. So I’m not going to say right now what I think the best timing would be.”
Many observers suspect Sturgeon may delay that referendum until after the 2021 Holyrood elections. Pressed on why she would not call a second one now, Sturgeon again hinted strongly a second independence vote could be several years away.
She said the chaos and uncertainty around Brexit made it clear that ill-informed or ill-judged decisions were a mistake.
“Clearly, if people in Scotland are being asked, given the opportunity to look again at the independence question, they have a right to have as much information as possible about what – if Scotland chooses to be independent, what our relationships will be with the rest of the UK and with Europe,” she said.
“And some of the answers to those questions inevitably depend on the Brexit outcome to some extent. And, therefore, I think it’s in the interest of allowing an informed decision to be taken about independence that we allow some of that clarity to emerge.
“Brexit is a good example of what happens when people take, in some respects, an uninformed decision about a big change. And when people, as I believe they will in due course, opt for Scotland to be an independent country, that should be on the basis of a genuinely informed decision about all of the implications and consequences.”
Sturgeon’s thinking about the timing has been influenced heavily by public mood. While opinion polls show popular support for independence is very close to the 45% yes vote in the 2014 referendum, it has not yet reached 50%.
She has been pledging to update Holyrood and her party on her independence strategy for more than 18 months, following the SNP’s loss of 21 seats in the 2017 Westminster election in the wake of her first attempt to use Brexit as a justification for a quick second independence vote.