Nicola Sturgeon accused of undermining independence with ’embarrassing’ plan

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Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has reaffirmed her commitment to holding a second independence referendum in the first half of the new parliamentary term. At the announcement of her draft co-operation agreement with the Scottish Greens, she said the deal made it “impossible on any democratic basis” for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to continue to refuse a second vote on the constitution. However, a leading voice in the independence campaign, Jim Sillars, has accused Ms Sturgeon of undermining their shared political cause with “manufactured grudge and grievance” against Westminster.

The former deputy leader of the party said constantly depicting the UK Government as an “anti-Scottish institution” hardens the minds of No voters, as does regarding Scottish supporters of the union as “traitors”.

In his autobiography “A Difference of Opinion: My Political Journey”, Mr Sillars wrote: “That fires up the party but does it serve the nation’s interests? I think not.

“I am not sure that it serves the independence movement well either.

“The fact is no one sits in ministerial offices in London thinking of how to shaft Scotland.”

Mr Sillars also believes that by not accepting the result of the Brexit referendum, the SNP leadership undermines its own case for independence.

He added: “By leaping upon every anti- Brexit forecast by the Treasury, Bank of England, Institute for Fiscal Studies and English-based think tanks, the party will find it impossible to reject their damning forecasts of the consequences of independence next time, as all such bodies did last time.”

It is not the first time Ms Sturgeon has been accused of undermining her own bid for independence, though.

According to a throwback report by The Telegraph, after the 2016 EU referendum, the now SNP leader confirmed she was considering a Norway-style model to stay in the single market by pushing for Scotland to join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and European Economic Area (EEA).

However, Ms Sturgeon had previously warned against the so-called “Norway plan” in an in-depth analysis three years before.

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Complete with a foreword from the now First Minister, the document said the EEA “effectively extends the geographical reach” of the Single Market to Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway and allows them tariff-free access with complex strings attached.

However, it warned that “Scotland’s citizens would lose all ability to influence the laws and regulations to which they would be subject” because EEA members have little input into the single market’s rules.

Critics had coined the phrase “fax democracies” for EEA countries, it said, because “a substantial proportion of their domestic laws appear by fax from Brussels”.

The report also warned this would have made Scotland less attractive to foreign investors as “the Scottish Government would lose all influence over the laws and regulations” to which the companies would be bound.

It concluded: “In that scenario it would make more sense for foreign investors to locate in a country that exerted real influence over these laws and regulations.”

The analysis, published by the Scottish Government in November 2013, made the case for an independent Scotland becoming an EU member state if there was a Yes vote in the following year’s referendum.

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However, the 105-page document also contained a section titled “Why the alternatives to membership are not attractive” in which it examined the EEA and EFTA.

Ms Sturgeon’s 2016 proposal was for Scotland to join the organisation while still part of the UK, rather than as an independent state, but the same rules she criticised in the report would have applied.

Murdo Fraser, a senior Scottish Tory MSP, said at the time: “Within hours of the First Minister seemingly contradicting her Economy Secretary over the attractiveness of EEA membership and confirming it is still an option for the SNP, we now learn that she signed off on an official Scottish Government paper ridiculing the prospect.

“There is one reason only why the SNP ends up in this kind of embarrassing mess – and that is its overriding obsession with independence.”

The analysis also examined the model pursued by Switzerland, which is a member of EFTA but not the EEA.

However, it warned that trade deals it has reached with Brussels “have been the result of lengthy, and complex, negotiations which took many years to complete”.

Mr Sillars, who supported an independent Scotland joining the EEA and EFTA rather than the EU said he thought some of the criticisms levelled in the report were inaccurate.

However, he said Scotland would not have been able to join either organisation while part of the UK and the report meant Ms Sturgeon would have had to eat “humble pie” if she had tried.

A Scottish Government spokesman said at the time: “The people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU – and we are exploring all options to protect Scotland’s national interests.

“We will set out proposals in the next few weeks that will keep Scotland in the single market even if the rest of the UK leaves.”

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