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Sturgeon: new Scottish referendum 'probably unstoppable' if UK votes to leave EU


A second Scottish independence referendum would be “probably unstoppable” if the UK voted to leave the European Union without the majority of voters in Scotland also voting to leave, Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said.

Speaking on the second day of the Scottish National party conference in Aberdeen, the party’s leader said that if Scotland was taken out of the EU against its “democratically expressed wishes”, it would undoubtedly spark demand for a second referendum. “I’m not saying [a referendum would be] automatic, but I do think that it’s highly likely,” she added.

 “The issue of EU membership was central to the referendum campaign,” Sturgeon told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday. “The no campaign – though it was nonsense – said the only way to protect our EU membership was to vote no.” If the majority of Scottish voters opted to stay in the EU but the UK as a whole voted to leave, “the demand for a second independence referendum would be probably unstoppable”, she said.

Sturgeon was also forced to defend the SNP’s record on public spending after eight years in government in Holyrood.

She argued that figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies – which suggest that health spending in England increased by 6% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2015-16 while Scottish health spending went up by roughly 1% – “did not tell the whole story”.

 “I’m familiar with the IFS figures you’re using and they don’t take full account of our non-profit distributing capital programme, which is what we had to introduce to compensate for the cuts to our capital budget,” said Sturgeon.

The Scottish first minister was asked about figures from Audit Scotland, which suggest that spending on schools in Scotland fell by 5% in real terms from 2010 to 2013, compared with a rise in real terms south of the border. “You are comparing apples with pears,” said Sturgeon, who pointed out that spending per head of the population on schools and the NHS is higher in Scotland than England.

Sturgeon repeated a claim she made in her speech to her party’s conference in Aberdeen that while her party shared some values with the new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, he would not be able to unite his party.

 “It may be the oldest political cliche in the book, but divided parties don’t win elections,” she said. “And if people in Scotland, and I’m sure it’ll be the case with people across the UK, don’t see Jeremy Corbyn as being able to unite Labour to become a credible alternative government then what’s the point of voting Labour?”

In her speech to the conference in Aberdeen on Thursday, Sturgeon argued that the Scottish parliament elections in May would not be a vote on independence. She urged those who had voted to remain part of the UK in last September’s referendum to choose her party because it was “the best party, with the best ideas and the best people to lead Scotland forward”.

 “I, of course, respect the decision that our country made last year,” she said. “So let me be clear: to propose another referendum in the next parliament, without strong evidence that a significant number of those who voted no have changed their minds, would be wrong and we won’t do that. It would not be respecting the decision that people have made.”