A draft bill giving Scotland the ability to reconsider the question of independence before the UK leaves the EU has been published for consultation.
Following a commitment in last month’s Programme for Government, the draft bill has been prepared to protect Scotland’s interests in light of the UK vote to leave the EU and the overwhelming vote across Scotland to remain.
Having the bill available will allow all options to be available to the Scottish Parliament to protect Scotland’s continuing relationship with Europe.
The draft bill proposes that any referendum would be run in a way similar to 2014, with technical adjustments to reflect recent changes in elections law and procedures such as individual registration.
The First Minister said: “My priority is clear – we will do everything we can to protect Scotland’s interests.
“The damage to jobs and Scotland’s economy that will be caused by Brexit – especially a hard Brexit - is now plain to see.
“We will continue to work UK wide to seek to avert a hard Brexit and we will also bring forward proposals that seek to protect our place in the single market, even if the rest of the UK leaves.
“However, if we find that our interests cannot be properly or fully protected within a UK context then independence must be one of the options open to us and the Scottish people must have the right to consider it.
“Any decision on holding a referendum, including the timing of it, would be for the Scottish Parliament to take having considered all the options for Scotland’s future relationship with the EU and the associated impact of being forced to leave against our will.”
Constitution Secretary Derek Mackay said: “This government remains committed to working with the UK Government on areas of common interest and where we can come up with constructive solutions to problems that we both face.
“It is important that a referendum on independence, like that in 2014, meets the gold standard in terms of fairness, transparency and propriety.
“The franchise will be the same as that for the Scottish Parliament. That will mean two important groups of people would have a voice denied to them in the recent referendum on EU membership: 16 and 17 year-olds and citizens of EU countries who have made Scotland their home.
“We are now publishing the bill for consultation so that it is ready for introduction should the Scottish Government decide that seeking the views of the Scottish people on independence is the best or only way to protect Scotland’s interests in the wake of the EU referendum. In stark contrast with the UK Government, we have a clear plan of action.”