The SNP has an “open ear” to a potential second referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, the party’s Westminster leader has said.
Ian Blackford said the SNP’s priority was making sure Scotland could stay in the single market and customs union, but added the party was “watching developments” over the prospect of another EU vote.
A hard Brexit, he argued, would signal a “clear road map towards a second independence referendum that for me would be the priority”.
“We’re not in all circumstances diametrically opposed to that, we have an open ear to developments on that front, but for us it’s the priority of staying in the single market and the customs union that’s most important.”
He added: “I think it is clear that if we’re out the single market and the customs union there is a massive threat to our economy, to jobs, to prosperity and I would say on that basis that there is a clear road map towards a second independence referendum that for me would be the priority.”
The MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber argued that if the UK Government did not listen to the SNP’s “power grab” concerns over its Brexit legislation, then an independence vote could follow and the Scottish Government had a mandate.
He said: “What I’m seeking to do is to defend the rights of the Scottish people and the powers that they have in their parliament, that is the immediate priority for us.
“Of course I would make the point that if we cannot get the UK Government to listen on this then ultimately we will be having a discussion with the people of Scotland as to how we best protect our parliament, I would argue that independence is the best way of doing that.”
SNP membership he said had “shot up” by 7,500 and was “still increasing” following the party’s protest at Prime Minister’s Questions over the Government’s handling of Brexit.
He said: “We have detected that there is a change in the public mood in Scotland and the reason for that change… it’s about the fact that it is now clear to people that the powers of the parliament are being undermined.”
He added: “We’re not at the moment talking about a timing of an independence referendum, what we have said is that we’ll make a judgment on that once we’ve got to the end of the Brexit process, so we’ll concentrate on making sure we’re standing up for our rights through the Brexit process.
“We will have that debate with the people of Scotland and the economic future of Scotland, but we will only come back to a discussion on the timing of a referendum once we’ve got through the Brexit process.”
As Theresa May narrowly won another crunch vote on the Government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill last week, Mr Blackford branded the Prime Minister “very weak”, adding “at some point that luck will run out”.
He said: “I would not describe her Government nor her chances of longevity as being based on anything that could be described as strong and stable.”
He added: “I do think there is a majority in the House of Commons to stay in the single market and the customs union, and it’s a question of how that’s achieved.”
The UK Government has previously said the Bill delivers on its pledge to give “significant further powers” to the Scottish Parliament, and it would seek consent unless there are “not normal circumstances applying” – describing Brexit as such an exception.
The Scottish Parliament has not granted a legislative consent motion for the key Brexit legislation.