Nicola Sturgeon is planning to hold a second Scottish independence referendum within the next two years, announced.
Speaking in Edinburgh on Wednesday, the SNP leader said Scotland will be offered a choice between independence and Brexit before the May 2021 Holyrood elections.
The First Minister said Scotland was being “forced to the margin, sidelined by a UK that is itself increasingly sidelined” as she confirmed she would bring forward legislation for the vote at Holyrood.
A coalition of Green and SNP votes means there is a majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament for a second vote on independence, but Theresa May has previously resisted calls to green-light a poll at Westminster.
Sturgeon told MSPs on Wednesday, however, she viewed that position as “unsustainable” and likely to trigger a fresh constitutional crisis between the two parliaments.
Setting out the case for a second vote, Sturgeon told MSPs cross-party talks and a citizens’ assembly could be set up to plan a route forward.
She went on to say Brexit risked Scotland’s trade with European countries and said “if we are to safeguard Scotland’s interests we can not wait indefinitely” for a second independence vote.
She added: “That is why I consider that a choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation should be offered in the lifetime of this parliament.”
Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, accused the first minister of creating “deeper division and more economic uncertainty”.
“Pushing for a divisive and unwanted second independence referendum within the next two years is the height of irresponsibility,” she said.
“But it is also a stark reminder to voters that the SNP will never stop fighting to leave the UK, and those of us who believe in solidarity and want an end to division must continue to campaign for a stronger future together.”
Sturgeon also condemned the “toxic combination of dishonesty and incompetence” that she claimed was causing the chaos surrounding Brexit.
“Those who campaigned for Leave in 2016 failed to set out what Brexit is,” she said, adding: “The UK Government triggered Article 50 before it had answered that question”.
Sturgeon added that whatever Scotland’s constitutional status in future, it would be in everyone’s interest to maintain the closest possible relationship with the EU.
The first minister added: “The Brexit outlook for Scotland is this - a smaller economy, restricted job growth, fewer people, narrowed horizons and greater pressure on our ability to fund the public services and social contract that we value so highly.
“Let me put it in simpler language. Brexit and all that flows from Brexit will affect the ability of Scottish governments now and well into the future to do the day job.
“To support businesses, combat poverty, fund the NHS and public services and tackle the defining challenges of our time.”
Devolution risks going backwards because of Brexit, she also warned.
“As the UK scrambles to do trade deals with Donald Trump or whoever, the inclination to impose uniformity in devolved areas will lead to more Westminster centralisation,” she said.
“It is my judgment now, that for the first time in 20 years, there is a risk of devolution going backwards.”
Scottish Secretary David Mundell, meanwhile, accused Sturgeon of ignoring the result of the 2014 referendum.
He said: “People in Scotland voted decisively in 2014 to remain part of the UK, on a promise that the referendum would settle the issue for a generation.
“Instead of respecting that result, Nicola Sturgeon continues to press for divisive constitutional change when it is clear that most people in Scotland do not want another independence referendum. The UK Government will stand up for them.
“Nicola Sturgeon needs to listen to the views of the Scottish people and concentrate on improving Scotland’s economy and schools, not continually trying to orchestrate upheaval and division.”