Gordon Brown has warned that Nicola Sturgeon is pursuing a “more extreme and hard-line” form of independence than in 2014 that would leave Scotland outside the British single market and inflict devastating damage to its economy.
The former Prime Minister challenged the Nationalists “to face up to the fact” that Brexit means an independent Scotland in the EU single market could not also remain part of the UK’s internal market.
He warned that “a more dramatic set of consequences” would follow for Scotland as 65 per cent of its trade is with the rest of the UK, compared to only 15 per cent with the EU.
But Ms Sturgeon claimed that a separate Scotland in the EU single market would become a “magnet for talent an investment” from all across the UK, raising the prospect of a brain drain from England of people who are opposed to Brexit.
The Scottish First Minister used her keynote speech to the SNP conference in Aberdeen to issue an “open invitation” to the English, Welsh and Northern Irish to move north of the Border “if you are as appalled as we are at the path this Westminster government is taking.”
In a direct warning to Theresa May ahead of the triggering of Article 50, she predicted that the Brexit negotiations will “hit the rocks” if the Prime Minister shows “the same tin ear” to the other 27 EU member states as she claimed had been shown to Scotland.
The interventions by Mr Brown and Ms Sturgeon came at the end of a momentous political week, with the First Minister formally demanding a second independence referendum only for the Prime Minister to refuse any vote until Scots can see how Brexit has worked out.
Ms Sturgeon claimed a separate Scotland could join the EU single market without damaging trade with the remainder of the UK but this has been rejected by a series of academics and economists.
They have warned that free trade between Scotland and the UK would end if one country was in the EU single market and the other was not. Members have to impose a common tariff on goods from countries outside.
Mr Brown told the Festival Of Ideas in his home town of Kirkcaldy, Fife that the Nationalists could argue in the 2014 referendum that an independent Scotland could remain in both the European and British single markets because the UK was an EU member state.
“That has changed entirely. If we leave the United Kingdom now, we are also leaving the British single market,” the former Labour leader said.
Arguing that a separate Scotland would have a choice between free trade with the UK or EU, but could not have both, Mr Brown said: “That is the consequence of independence now. That is a more extreme and hard-line position to exit the British single market as well as the United Kingdom.”
He said this was “so important” because a million Scottish jobs are linked to being part of the UK internal market. The former Chancellor said 3,000 Scottish companies import and export with England compared to 1,000 that do the same with the rest of the EU.
The former Prime Minister said: "The world has changed but not the way the SNP want it to be. The world has changed and we have to face up to post-Brexit realities. It doesn't make the case for independence stronger, it makes it weaker."
He delivered his warning in a speech in which he called for Holyrood to be handed a raft of new powers after Brexit as part of a "third option" which he believes could unite the country. Mr Brown said a new form of federal home rule is needed to offer an alternative to Unionism and nationalism.
But Ms Sturgeon said a separate Scotland would have “massive opportunities” if the UK turned its back on membership of “the world’s biggest single market” and it could stay inside.
In a taster of the economic case she intends to make ahead of a second referendum, the First Minister said: “We will become a magnet for talent and investment from all across the UK. So let me issue this open invitation today.
“Scotland isn't full up. If you are as appalled as we are at the path this Westminster government is taking, come and join us.”
She said a commission she has asked to examine how a separate Scotland would close its mammoth £15 billion annual deficit would report back in the next few months with “hard headed” and “realistic” remedies.
Ms Sturgeon attempted to reach out to the thousands of Scots who are furious at her breaking her promise that the 2014 referendum was a once-in-a-generation event, saying she understood they might be “resentful” and “you might not relish going through it all again.”
But she claimed the Prime Minister left her with little choice by pursuing a hard Brexit and refusing to consider her highly complex plans for Scotland to stay in the single market when the rest of the UK comes out.
The First Minister said that Yes and No voters could “unite” around the principle that Scotland must be allowed to decide its own constitutional future and demanded Mrs May reconsider her decision to block a referendum.