GLASGOW • Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon offered her strongest signal yet that she will call a vote on independence if she does not like the Brexit terms that Prime Minister Theresa May negotiates.
Closing her Scottish National Party's (SNP) conference in Glasgow on Saturday, Ms Sturgeon said she is working on proposals to keep Scotland inside the European Union's single market even if the rest of Britain leaves.
"If the Tory government rejects these efforts, if it insists on taking Scotland down a path that hurts our economy, costs jobs, lowers our living standards and damages our reputation as an open, welcoming, diverse country, then be in no doubt: Scotland must have the ability to choose a better future," Ms Sturgeon said to applause.
"And I will make sure that Scotland gets that chance."
While hinting at a rerun of 2014's independence referendum is popular with supporters of a sovereign Scotland, the first minister's rhetoric risks taking her to a place where it would be hard for her not to announce such a vote.
Her overarching strategy has been not to go for independence again until opinion-poll evidence suggests she can win the referendum.
Speaking in a meeting at the conference earlier on Saturday, External Affairs Minister Fiona Hyslop said the Scottish government's tactics are aimed at putting political pressure on Mrs May "to go for what we call the least worst option in terms of relationships to the European Union".
Ms Hyslop warned, though, that it was impossible to predict how events will play out.
"You can't game-plan this," she said. "You can't determine exactly where we might be at some point in the future."
The SNP leader has raised Scotland's profile since the Brexit vote in June, seizing on a new openness towards Scotland in the EU since Scots voted by a large margin - 62 per cent - to remain in the bloc.
Ms Sturgeon also announced on Saturday moves to boost trade, including the setting up of an office in Berlin and a doubling of the number of Scottish investment agency staff in mainland Europe, saying that "we need to tell our European friends that Scotland is open for business".
Scotland wants to keep as many of the advantages of single-market membership as it can even if Britain leaves, and is looking for a bespoke deal to do so, as is London, where a majority also voted to remain in the EU.
The SNP leader used her speech on Saturday to declare herself the main opposition to Mrs May's Conservative government, setting a course that is designed to show Scotland is moving in a different direction from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Setting herself up for a battle with Mrs May will serve Ms Sturgeon in future elections: The SNP's pitch to voters is that it is best placed to fight for Scotland's interests.
But it will also serve the long-term goal of independence.
Ms Sturgeon said last week that the Scottish government would be publishing a blueprint for a possible new independence vote. She has not said if or when the Bill would be presented formally to the Edinburgh Parliament.
A cross-party group of legislators has demanded that the British government publish a "substantive outline" of its plans and submit it to a vote in Parliament before invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the formal mechanism for withdrawing from the EU.
"While the government has a mandate to pull us out of the European Union, it doesn't have a mandate on how to do that," Mr Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister, told the BBC's Andrew Marr programme yesterday.
"That is why it is important that the government strengthens its own hand and also just subjects its own ideas to the sort of scrutiny of the Parliament before they go to the negotiations elsewhere in Europe."
WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG