Scotland's Nicola Sturgeon to declare SNP as main opposition to govt of Britain's PM May

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish National party conference in Glasgow, Scotland on Oct 14, 2016.
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish National party conference in Glasgow, Scotland on Oct 14, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

EDINBURGH (Bloomberg) - Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will declare herself the main opposition to British Prime Minister Theresa May's government, setting a course that is designed to show Scotland is moving in a different direction from the rest of Britain.

Two days after opening the Scottish National Party's (SNP's) conference in Glasgow by hardening her threat to call another independence referendum if she doesn't like Mrs May's strategy for Brexit negotiations, Ms Sturgeon will close the meeting on Saturday (Oct 15) with a speech that her office said will have a "heavy domestic focus".

Extracts released in advance show Ms Sturgeon will also argue that Britain's vote to leave the European Union marks a fundamental shift for the country, one with which Scotland does not agree. She will argue that Mrs May's government has adopted an isolationist stance, which she will promise to fight.

"We are in a completely new era," the first minister will say. "And as the world around us changes, we must ensure that Scotland remains the progressive, internationalist, communitarian country that the majority of us living here want it be. The choice we face has never been so stark. The primary contest of ideas in our country is now between the SNP and the hard-right Tories."

Ms Sturgeon will also announce 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".

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 her long-term goal of independence. 

Her best chance of winning a vote to break away from Britain rests in persuading her fellow Scots that their country is moving away from the path being taken by the rest of Britain.

Having lost a first independence referendum in 2014 and with opinion polls showing most Scots still oppose a breakup, she also needs to successfully argue that the country's situation has fundamentally changed since then.

Brexit is an asset in both of those arguments: Scotland voted to stay in the EU, but as speaker after speaker has reminded the party conference, it is being taken out of the bloc by the votes of the English.

After threatening a referendum if Mrs May takes Britain into too distant a relationship with the EU, Ms Sturgeon was forced to deny on Friday that this was a bluff.

She is unlikely to call a referendum she isn't sure of winning, and her task over the coming years is to persuade Scots that leaving the EU is so dangerous a course that quitting Britain would be the safer option.