Scotland’s first minister has warned that there are “no shortcuts” to independence as she urged her party to build the political case for indyref2.
In a speech in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon stressed that she still wants an independence referendum this year.
But she acknowledged that it now may not happen until after next year’s Scottish Parliament election.
And she again insisted that any referendum “must be legal and legitimate”.
Ms Sturgeon was addressing SNP activists just hours before the UK leaves the EU at 23:00, despite Scottish voters backing Remain by 62% to 38% in the EU referendum.
The first minister said that Brexit day was a “pivotal moment” for Scotland and the UK, with the “real and profound sadness” felt by many Scots also tinged with anger.
And she said her party’s task now was to “persuade a majority of people on Scotland to back independence”.
What did Ms Sturgeon announce?
Ms Sturgeon used her speech to unveil plans to set up a new Constitutional Convention of MPs, MSPs, former MEPs and councillors, similar to the one that was set up ahead of the creation of the devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999.
She also said a series of papers would be published on how to set up an independent Scotland, with the SNP’s campaign budget being doubled to pay for new independence materials, local newspaper adverts and a new campaign film focused on undecided voters.
And she said the Electoral Commission would be asked to re-test the question from the last referendum in 2014 – “should Scotland be an independent country”.
What about indyref2?
The SNP leader argued that there was a “cast-iron democratic mandate” for an independence referendum given the SNP’s electoral success in recent years and the country’s opposition to Brexit.
But she said pretending there were “shortcuts or clever wheezes that can magically overcome the obstacles we face” would do the independence cause a disservice.
Ms Sturgeon added: “To achieve independence, a referendum, whenever it happens – whether it is this year as I want, or after the next Scottish election – must be legal and legitimate. That is a simple fact.
“It must demonstrate clearly that there is majority support for independence, and its legality must be beyond doubt. Otherwise the outcome, even if successful, would not be recognised by other countries.
“The best way to achieve that, even though it may not be ideal, is to reach agreement with UK government on a transfer of power to the Scottish Parliament, just as we did for 2014.”
Ms Sturgeon formally requested a transfer of powers from Westminster to ensure the legality of a referendum after her party won 48 of Scotland’s 59 seats in December’s general election.
But this was rejected by the prime minister, who said the 2014 referendum – when Scottish voters rejected independence by 55% to 45% – was a “once in a generation” event.
Ms Sturgeon did not rule out a future legal challenge to the prime minister’s refusal to grant formal consent, as some independence campaigners have suggested.
She warned that any court action would not be guaranteed to win – adding: “It could move us forward – but equally it could set us back.”
The first minister said: “So my judgment at this stage is that we should use our energies differently. We must focus on building and winning the political case for independence.
There are many good political reasons why Nicola Sturgeon needs to keep talking up a referendum in 2020 – but it is all but certain not to happen.
The SNP leader wants to keep the pressure up on Boris Johnson, to make clear that his blunt refusals are not sustainable. And she needs to keep her supporters marching in step, even if the road remains longer than many of them might have hoped.
But she also wants indyref2 to be legally watertight and internationally recognised, particularly by the EU. That’s not going to happen without a deal with Mr Johnson, which isn’t going to come this year.
Ms Sturgeon doesn’t just want a referendum, she wants independence – and she believes only an agreed process like that of 2014 can deliver it.
This may be a difficult message to sell to some more vocal elements of the Yes movement, who would have been satisfied today by nothing less than a date for a poll – and the sooner the better.
But this is still more about the politics of persuasion than process. For all the politically necessary talk of a vote this year, Ms Sturgeon is playing a longer game.
On Wednesday, SNP and Green MSPs united at Holyrood to pass a motion saying a referendum should be held “on a date and in a manner determined by the Scottish Parliament”.
They also voted to keep the European flag flying outside the parliament beyond Brexit “as a practical demonstration of regret”.
And on Thursday a YouGov poll suggested that a narrow majority of Scots may now support independence – with 51% backing Yes to 49% No, excluding don’t knows.
However the survey also found 56% of respondents were opposed to having a referendum this year 2020 – with 34% in favour.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson is to make an address of his own shortly before the Brexit deadline, when he will speak of “the dawn of a new era” and national unity.
The prime minister will say: “Our job as the government – my job – is to bring this country together and take us forward.
“And the most important thing to say tonight is that this is not an end but a beginning. This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act.”