Scotland politics

Scottish cabinet 'did not discuss indyref'

Scottish Cabinet meeting from 2016 Image copyright PA
Image caption The Scottish cabinet is said to have discussed Brexit but not independence when it met on Tuesday morning (library picture)

Nicola Sturgeon and her cabinet did not discuss their plans for a second independence referendum when they met for the first time since the general election.

A spokesman for the first minister said they had spoken about the impact the election could have on Brexit.

But he said there was "no discussion of a referendum" during the meeting.

Ms Sturgeon has said that she would "reflect carefully" on her plans after the SNP lost 21 seats in the election.

She has conceded that proposals for a second vote on leaving the UK were "undoubtedly" a factor in the result.

Opposition parties - and some figures from within the SNP - have called on Ms Sturgeon to shelve her plans for a referendum.

Speaking to journalists after the cabinet meeting, her spokesman said Scottish ministers had agreed there could now be "a substantial opportunity for alternatives to a hard Brexit" following the Conservatives' failure to win an overall majority in the election.

But when asked if the Scottish cabinet had considered the impact of the election on its referendum plans, he added: "There was no discussion, no.

"There was a discussion of the outcome of the election in relation to Brexit, but no specific discussion of a referendum."

The spokesman insisted he was "not going to pre-empt the first minister" on the issue.

He said: "I'm not going to outline any position on independence or a referendum because it's for the first minister to do that, and she has indicated she will do that in due course."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ruth Davidson's Scottish Conservatives have urged Ms Sturgeon to shelve her plans for a second referendum

The spokesman was asked why Ms Sturgeon was calling for amendments to be made to the UK's Brexit plans in the wake of the election, but had not yet announced any change to her proposals for a second independence referendum.

He responded: "The fact remains the SNP won a majority of seats in Scotland, Theresa May and the Conservatives did not win a majority of seats in the UK, so there is a difference, there is a distinction to be drawn there."

Almost immediately after the UK voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, the first minister said a fresh ballot on independence was "highly likely".

And in March of this year, Ms Sturgeon said she wanted the vote to be held between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of 2019, when the terms of the Brexit deal are known.

The first minister was due to outline the "next steps" towards a second referendum after Holyrood's Easter break - but her statement was delayed by the election, with her spokesman saying he does "not have a timescale" for when it might take place.

Single market

He also stressed that staying within Europe's single market is still "paramount" for Scottish ministers.

The SNP administration published a paper last year setting out its proposals to keep either the whole of the UK or Scotland alone in the single market following Brexit.

Since last Thursday's election, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has said there is a need to look again at issues like Brexit to ensure there is cross-party support.

Ms Sturgeon's spokesman made clear: "Single market membership is what we are absolutely committed to, a continued place in the single market.

"Our position is that a continued place in the single market, that is paramount."

Asked if this could be up for discussion, he said: "I think anything short of that immediately takes you into hard Brexit territory."

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: "We can only hope in the absence of any independence discussion, ministers instead addressed the Scottish Government's terrible domestic record on devolved matters.

"But the reality is, until Nicola Sturgeon takes the threat of another referendum off the table, no-one will believe it's not her priority."

Scottish Labour claimed that independence was now the "elephant in the room" for Ms Sturgeon.

The party's business manager, James Kelly, said: "We want the Scottish cabinet focused on jobs, schools and hospitals - but it is staggering that SNP ministers did not discuss dropping a referendum given Thursday's result."