Scotland politics

Opposition leaders reaffirm support for Union

Ruth and Kez
Image caption Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale are both giving speeches in London

Scotland's opposition leaders have reaffirmed their support for the United Kingdom in speeches in London.

Former first minister Alex Salmond has suggested a decision on an independence referendum could come within weeks.

Tory leader Ruth Davidson said the case for independence was "weaker and more illogical than ever" in a speech at the London School of Economics.

And Labour's Kezia Dugdale set out her vision of a federal UK at an event at University College London.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has described the coming weeks as "really critical", as the UK government moves towards triggering Article 50, the first step in the formal process of leaving the European Union. Prime Minster Theresa May has stated her intention to do this by the end of March.

Ms Sturgeon has put forward proposals for a differentiated deal which would keep Scotland in the European single market even as the UK leaves, but said she is "facing a UK government that is not willing to compromise".

And she said that "time is running out" for a UK-wide Brexit deal to be agreed, sparking speculation of a fresh referendum in the autumn of 2018.

At the LSE, Ms Davidson described the SNP as a "formidable political organisation", which she suspected had "learned from the tactics of the Leave campaign and is itching to get its own campaign bus into gear".

She said: "There is something of a Brexit paradox here.

"Because while Brexit has provided the means for Nicola Sturgeon to crank up her independence campaign once more - it has also made that case weaker and more illogical than ever.

"As we learned only last month in official Scottish government statistics, trade within the UK internal market is worth four times to Scotland than trade with the EU.

"The logic is therefore clear. If everyone in Scotland agrees that free trade with Europe is important - and we do - it is literally impossible to deny that trade with the rest of the UK matters four times as much.

"But rather than accept that logic, the same old Nationalist contortions are applied. It is already cranking up the grievance machine in an attempt to push people towards the exit door."

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Media captionMr Salmond believes a decision could be made shortly

Elsewhere in the city, Ms Dugdale underlined Labour's firm opposition to a second independence vote, while promoting her vision of a federal UK.

She told an event at University College London of plans to formally adopt federalism as a Scottish Labour policy at the party's upcoming spring conference. She said this could help solve the "failure of politics" which left people "willing to take a leap in the dark" and vote for Brexit.

She said: "Our proposal seeks to build out from the benefits we already derive from being part of the UK, and it would bring power closer to people.

"It does mean more powers for the Scottish Parliament - starting with those powers in devolved areas that will return from Brussels in the coming years.

"These are the proposals that we will take to any constitutional convention in the future, and which I believe would strengthen the UK well into the future.

"The vast majority of people in Scotland want what the Labour Party wants - a strong Scotland, with a strong Scottish Parliament, inside the United Kingdom."

'Find compromise'

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie has written a blog on his website accusing the SNP of "selling out Remain voters", saying it appeared the party was backing away from supporting full membership of the EU.

He said: "The SNP will use the Remainers to seek another independence vote, but sell them out for the support of independence-supporting Brexiteers to break up the UK."

The Scottish Greens meanwhile support independence, and have urged Ms Sturgeon to press ahead with legislation for a second referendum in light of the Brexit vote.

Ms Sturgeon was asked about the matter of a second referendum during her final Holyrood question session before the current parliamentary recess.

The first minister told MSPs: "I have a duty to stand up for the interests of this country and to do everything that I can to make sure that the Tories do not get away with taking Scotland off a hard-Brexit cliff edge.

"On the question of a second independence referendum, I have been clear about my determination to find compromise; it just so happens that I am facing a UK government that is not willing to compromise with me.

"I have also said that I am determined to ensure that Scotland will not be dragged out of the EU and off that hard-Brexit cliff edge against its will. My mandate for that was in the manifesto that I was elected on just under one year ago."

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