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Sturgeon to consult Holyrood on independence referendum bill

The First Minister will immediately introduce it if she judges it is the only way to stay in the EU.

By STV News

Published 06 Sep 2016.

The Scottish Government will consult MSPs over a second independence referendum, the First Minister has revealed.

An independence referendum bill will be introduced if the First Minister judges it to be in the country's interests.

The First Minister also pledged to introduce a £500m support package for businesses over a three-year period.

Sturgeon said: "Sixty-two percent of those who voted in Scotland, voted to remain.

"That's why I am determined to pursue all options to protect our place in Europe.

"However, to ensure that all options are open to us, this programme for government makes clear that we will consult on a draft referendum bill so that it is ready for immediate introduction if we conclude that independence is the best or only way to protect Scotland".

The First Minister described the business support package as an "exceptional response" to the "exceptional economic challenge" of the prospect of leaving the EU.

Loans of up to £5m will be available to small and medium sized enterprises.

Nicola Sturgeon said her government has "new powers" and is operating "in a new political, economic and constitutional context" after June's EU referendum.

The SNP leader described her programme for government for the next five years to STV News as focusing on the "nuts and bolts" of governing the country such as policies on education, health and the economy.

The Scottish Government plans to introduce a total of 14 bills, including:

After forming a minority government in May, Nicola Sturgeon said raising the attainment levels of children from deprived backgrounds would be her key priority.

In her cabinet reshuffle after the election, the First Minister moved John Swinney from finance secretary to education secretary.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said Sturgeon was prioritising independence above everything else.

The Conservatives are the second largest party in Holyrood following May's election.

Davidson said: "The First Minister's statement today entirely sums up that up.

"Plenty of legislation - but all just served as a warm-up to the attempt to nudge the independence caravan another few inches along the road.

"Our vision is for a government which helps people to get by and to get on.

"It's for a government which makes economic growth its priority so we can fund our public services.

"And which believes our best interests are served by respecting the decision to stay within the United Kingdom - so we can get on with our lives and move on."

The First Minister was warned she would find "no support" for a second independence referendum from Scottish Labour MSPs by the party's leader.

Kezia Dugdale called for clarity on the SNP's constitutional plans.

She said: "The First Minister needs to be clear about what she wants to achieve as Britain faces the prospect of Brexit.

At the beginning of the summer, a second referendum was "highly likely". On Friday it was an option.

"But then yesterday, she offered support to Tory ministers who want a soft Brexit, and to keep us in the single market.

" What is the position First Minister? When it comes to the EU and the UK, are we in or are we out? Labour will continue to make the argument that we have since the EU referendum.

"That we are better maintaining our relationship with the EU and continuing as part of the United Kingdom."

Disappointment over the possibility of a second independence referendum was also expressed by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie.

Rennie campaigned against independence with his party's MSPs in 2014.

He said: "Nine years after they came to power there is no sign of the SNP are willing to drop independence and get on with the job of making our economy and services the best again.

"The First Minister spent the whole summer talking up the prospect of a second independence referendum instead of getting on with the day job.

"As a result figures today show hundreds of children are waiting more than a year for mental health treatment. The First Minister had just 22 words on mental health."

Sturgeon did find some support for any consultation on a referendum bill from the Scottish Greens.

The party's leader Patrick Harvie promised to act "constructively" around the discussions.

Harvie however expressed his disappointment over plans to cut Air Passenger Duty.

He said: "With a minority government, this term will need to be one of compromise and open-minded discussion.

"The Scottish Greens will work constructively to improve government proposals but we will also challenge them where necessary.

"Cutting Air Passenger Duty should not be a priority given its negative environmental and social impact. Investment in energy efficient housing, which could slash fuel poverty and tackle climate emissions, must be dramatically increased given the slow progress to date."