Scotland stands at a hugely important crossroads.
Within a matter of days, the Prime Minister is going to trigger Article 50, the formal two-year process for the UK leaving the EU.
We still don’t know what the terms of Brexit are, but what we do know is that Theresa May is committed to a hard Brexit – severing the UK’s economic ties with the EU and leaving the single market.
This may be what the Tory right-wing want her to do, but it will be economically disastrous – costing potentially tens of thousands of jobs in Scotland and reducing living standards.
Let’s remember that the people of Scotland didn’t vote for this – we voted by a 24-point margin to remain in the EU.
For months, the Scottish Government has been working to find some kind of compromise – a way of protecting Scotland’s relationship with the EU in a post-Brexit landscape.
Despite all of our efforts, the UK Government has moved not one inch – it’s a hard Brexit, no matter the economic consequences.
And they are increasingly muscling in on the powers of the Scottish Parliament – seeking to hold onto powers that come back from Brussels even if they relate to devolved areas like agriculture and fisheries.
With Labour in complete disarray, there is a strong possibility that the Tories will be in power until the 2030s.
What’s at stake is not just our future relationship with Europe – it’s the kind of country we will become.
Put simply, change is coming. The only question is what kind of change.
We can’t just drift along for the next two years and hope for the best.
I believe that the people of Scotland should have a choice between a hard Brexit and becoming an independent country.
That’s why I last week announced plans to open talks with the UK Government about allowing the people of Scotland just such a choice, in a referendum to be held when the options are clear.
And this week, the Scottish Parliament will decide whether to give us the authority to open these talks – to seek the legal powers from the UK Government to allow a vote to take place.
At last year’s election, the SNP won the highest constituency vote share of any party in the history of the Scottish Parliament.
Our manifesto stated “The Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum…if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out the EU against our will.”
Well, that’s exactly the situation we’re now in.
And if a majority in the Scottish Parliament supports our proposals this week, then at that point a fair, legal and agreed referendum – on a timescale that will allow Scotland an informed choice – ceases to be just my proposal, or that of the SNP.
It becomes the will of the democratically elected Parliament of Scotland.
To stand in defiance of that would be for the Prime Minister to shatter beyond repair any notion of the UK as a respectful partnership of equals.
Now, some people have said that the referendum should only be held at the point when we have clarity about the implications of Brexit for Scotland. I agree with them.
We are proposing that the vote will take place between Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019. These dates are based on the timetable set out by the Prime Minister herself, and by the European Commission for when the Brexit deal must be finalised.
At that point, the Brexit deal has to be ratified by the UK Parliament and by all Member States – so there must be clarity at that point about Brexit’s implications for Scotland.
Equally, those of us who support independence must and will ensure that we are upfront about the challenges and opportunities of being an independent country. So there will be clarity on both sides.
But here’s the key point – to enable us to have the referendum at that point, we need to start talking about the process now.
If she refuses to even discuss the process necessary to enable a vote, Theresa May is effectively trying to block the people of Scotland having any say in their future until it is too late.
I know there are some who want me to rule out a referendum completely. If I did so, I’d be deciding – completely unilaterally – that Scotland will follow the UK to a hard Brexit come-what-may, no matter how damaging to our economy and our society it turns out to be.
Scotland is a wealthy country, with fantastic human and natural resources – I think we deserve better than the Tory hard Brexit that is being imposed on us.
But that shouldn’t be the decision of just one politician – not me, and not Theresa May.
It should be the choice for the people of Scotland – and I trust the people to make the choice.