Nicola Sturgeon vows to protect Scotland’s EU rights

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Sturgeon has said she is determined that Scotland’s vote for the UK to remain in the EU will be respected in 2017 as Unionist party leaders urged her to abandon her threats of a second independence referendum.

The First Minister used her New Year’s message to promise to work over the next 12 months to protect as many as possible of the “benefits” of EU membership, including the ability of Scots to work and study in other member states.

But Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, said the country’s political leaders should focus “not on creating further division and instability, but on improving services and supporting business to get our economy moving again.”

Kezia Dugdale, her Labour counterpart, said being part of the UK was “even more important” to Scotland’s economy than remaining in the EU and vowed to oppose a second referendum.

Scotland’s political party leaders issued their New Year’s messages ahead of a 2017 that is expected to be dominated by Brexit, with the ‘phoney war’ period that followed the EU referendum vote coming to an end shortly.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule in January on whether Theresa May needs the approval of MPs to trigger the formal Article 50 process for leaving. The Prime Minister had promised to do so by the end of March.

In addition, the court will decide whether the Government should seek the consent of the Scottish Parliament. Ms Sturgeon is also expected to focus on building support for her blueprint for Scotland to stay in the EU single market even if the rest of the UK comes out.

However, even members of her own expert Brexit panel have said it is “extremely difficult” to see how her plans are legally, politically or technically feasible.”

Academics have warned they would create a hard economic border with England and the Spanish government appeared to deliver their death knell by flatly rejecting them. Any differentiated deal for Scotland would require the consent of all 27 other member states.

But Ms Sturgeon said: “We are working to safeguard the opportunities that so many people in Scotland now take for granted.

“We are determined that Scotland’s vote to remain in the European Union will be respected – and that people in Scotland retain as many of the benefits of EU membership as possible, including the freedom to work, travel and study in other member states.”

She also highlighted developments such as the introduction of the baby box, which will see every mother in Scotland given a box of essential items for a newborn baby by summer next year, and the expansion of free early learning and childcare.

Ms Davidson described 2016 as a time when the “world felt that it shifted a little on its axis” and claimed “it became a different, often more troubling place.”

“So my hope for 2017 is that we see a little more stability and moderation. That applies right across the world – but it applies here at home too,” she said. “So, here in Scotland, that means we need to focus not on creating further division and instability; but on improving services and supporting business to get our economy moving again – to help families who are struggling to get by.”

Ms Dugdale said: “Remaining in the UK is good for jobs, it’s good for our economy and it’s good for our public services. Labour will never support the SNP’s attempt to force another referendum on the people of Scotland.”

Wiliie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said: “We need to put the politics of division behind us and focus on making Scotland a better country to live in.”