Willie Rennie, Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for North East Fife and leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, has denounced Nicola Sturgeon for focusing on independence following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union (EU).
Writing for The Scotsman, Mr. Rennie declared that the Scottish Liberal Democrats “are departing from the First Minister’s efforts,” to pursue an alternative to Ms. Sturgeon’s calls for a second independence referendum.
While until recently united in their efforts to navigate Scotland’s future in the wake of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, Mr Rennie claimed that Ms Sturgeon “broke the Scottish cross party consensus that was built after the Brexit result two months ago” by seizing the Leave vote as an opportunity to reenergise her earlier calls for Scotland to leave the UK.
“I don’t think Sturgeon is serious about working beyond her own ranks,” Mr Rennie said.
While noting that he had initially agreed with the principles and goals set out by Ms Sturgeon in the days following the June 23 vote, Mr Rennie criticised her actions since then, saying that “the only solution that the First Minister has offered in the last two months is independence.”
Going on, Mr Rennie said, “She has been hyperactively bouncing around the country over the summer advancing any argument” supporting an independent Scotland since the Leave campaign succeeded in June.
Mr Rennie also claims that “she has reverted to her nationalist type,” and is not seriously entertaining Scottish responses that do not involve another independence referendum.
According to Mr Rennie, Ms Sturgeon’s apparent decision to cast aside alternatives to independence without debate shows an unwillingness to hear other opinions, including his own party’s, regarding their shared country’s future.
Indeed, the First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) recently proposed a draft independence referendum bill as part of the Scottish Government’s response to the vote to leave the EU.
Ms Sturgeon said, “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’s interests.”
Mr Rennie and Ms Sturgeon’s parties are divided over their country’s future. Mr. Rennie’s Scottish Liberal Democrats promote a “No Borders” policy, advocating Scotland should remain in the EU and that the general public should have the final say on deal following Brexit negotiations. It also affirms that Scotland should stay in the UK.
“Liberal Democrats have a positive, optimistic outlook which seeks to break down borders and barriers and work in partnership with our neighbours,” said Mr Rennie.
“For Scotland to leave the UK or for the UK to leave the EU would necessitate more barriers to economic growth, immigration, and diplomatic exchange, at least until the related governments implement alternative agreements,” he added.
Ms Sturgeon argument is that leaving the single market is detrimental to Scotland’s economy, and that since Scotland voted to Remain in the EU in the referendum earlier this year, Westminster lacks the mandate to pull Scotland from the supranational body.
Liberal Democrat Mariam Mahmood, a student here, was not surprised by Mr. Rennie’s decision.
“The Scottish Government should be looking at how best to ensure Scotland’s stability, and a divisive referendum is highly unlikely to do this,” Ms Mahmood said.
She also agreed that “the First Minister has shown little interest in post-Brexit solutions,” adding that she hopes Mr. Rennie’s withdrawal of support “will show that a second independence referendum is not set in stone.”