* Says May seeks "hard" exit from EU against Scot interests
* Accuses British PM of "constitutional vandalism"
* May to consult with Scots during Brexit process -official
(Adds context, details)
By Elisabeth O'Leary
GLASGOW, Oct 13 Scottish First Minister Nicola
Sturgeon raised the prospect of a second independence referendum
by 2019, accusing the British government of ignoring Scotland's
interests by pursuing a "hard" exit from the European Union.
Speaking at the start of her Scottish National Party's (SNP)
bi-annual conference on Thursday, Sturgeon said her devolved
government would publish a draft independence referendum bill as
early as next week.
Questions about the future of the 309-year union between
England, where a majority voted to leave the EU, and Scotland,
where a majority voted to stay in it, have multiplied since the
June 23 referendum put the entire United Kingdom on the path to
British Prime Minister Theresa May last week set out the
exit timetable by promising to launch the two-year legal process
by the end of March, and later triggered a fall in the value of
the pound to a 31-year low by appearing to prioritise
immigration controls over Britain's current preferential access
to the EU single market, which could hurt trade and investment.
"If you think for one single second that I'm not serious
about doing what it takes to protect Scotland's interests, then
think again," Sturgeon said in a warning to May.
She accused May's Conservative government of "constitutional
vandalism" by what she said was its disregard of Scotland's
views on Brexit, arguing that it had no mandate to take Britain
out of the EU single market for goods and services.
In response, a spokeswoman for May said the prime minister
was "absolutely committed to engaging with the people of
Scotland, with understanding their interests and making sure
that as we go through the process of negotiating the UK exit we
do what is in the interests of the United Kingdom".
May said last week she would be "ambitious" in talks with
the other 27 EU members to get what she called the best deal.
Sturgeon said she would seek to ensure that Scotland gets
increased powers in any negotiation Britain undertakes to leave,
challenging May on her stance that any Brexit deal must be
negotiated by her government for the whole of Britain.
But Sturgeon also said she wanted a bill in place to give
her the possibility of calling another referendum before Britain
formally leaves the EU - now expected by the end of March 2019.
"I am determined that Scotland will have the ability to
reconsider the question of independence - and to do so before
the UK leaves the EU - if that is necessary to protect our
country's interests," she added.
Any binding second independence referendum would probably
have to be agreed by the British government in London, which has
said it considers the matter was settled at a 2014 vote.
May has also denounced "divisive nationalists" and said
there would be no Brexit opt-out available for Scotland,
Northern Ireland or Wales. A majority in Northern Ireland voted
to stay in the EU, while the "Leave" camp won in Wales.
Sturgeon has often said that Scotland must continue to have
independence as an option to safeguard its democratic voice.
Although the public mood in Scotland is one of widespread
disenchantment regarding Brexit, opinion polls do not indicate
that support for independence has increased since Scots rejected
it by a 10 percentage point margin in 2014.
Sturgeon also said she was aware that she was treading a
fine line between hardliners who want to split from the UK and
those wary of rocking the boat further after the Brexit vote,
which has already unsettled Britain's economy.
Her SNP is by far the dominant Scottish party, running the
country's devolved government and holding 54 of the 59
designated seats for Scotland in the London parliament.
Sturgeon said her government planned to seek powers to give
Scotland a more inclusive and internationalist path.
"We will seek to make this plan a key element of the UK's
Article 50 negotiation. It will require substantial additional
powers for the Scottish parliament: all the powers in our areas
of responsibility that currently lie with the EU - and
significant new powers too."
(Additional reporting by William James; editing by Stephen
Addison and Mark Heinrich)