SCOTTISH Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell has said that a People’s Vote on Brexit is only possible if “work starts now” on the referendum process.

Speaking at a major pro-EU rally in Edinburgh, which also included speeches from Glasgow University Principal Sir Anton Muscatelli, Labour MEP Catherine Stihler and a panel of MPs, Russell set out steps towards a solution to Brexit.

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“The answer has to be simple. This is Occam’s razor,” he said.

“This is trying to find the fewest steps to take at a time of extraordinary difficulty and danger. Those steps are clear indeed. The first of those has to be to rule out a no-deal Brexit. It is literally unthinkable. Contrary to what the Prime Minister says, a no-deal can be ruled out with a vote in the House of Commons and the stroke of a pen.”

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He continued: “The second is an extension of the Article 50 process. Given the circumstances, I don’t think such a request would be refused by the EU. It is a sensible choice to be made by the people.

“The last one is pure democracy in its essence. If the elected representatives of the people cannot find a solution – how do you get a solution, except by returning to the people?”

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Russell went on to note that the time taken to achieve establishing the compromises to Brexit was “just not available to us,” but added that it was “physically possible” to hold a People’s Vote if work towards it commenced immediately.

“Best practised referenda do require a considerable amount of time to organise. But it is physically possible to organise a referendum within the time available, providing that work starts now,” he said

“If we succumb to feeling powerless, nothing will change. I do not believe leaving the EU is inevitable. It will require everyone to campaign with vigour and together to say that we will not have that outcome. I believe that as a democrat and a nationalist and that is what I want everyone in Scotland to do.”

Earlier in his speech, Russell condemned comments made by Tory MP Francois about “German bullying” in relation to his father having served at D-Day and Brexit warnings made by German Airbus boss, Tom Enders.

He slammed the remarks, citing his own father, who was wounded in the push to reclaim France.

He said of his father: “At the age of 19 he volunteered ... [He] was a sergeant at Dunkirk and had a bullet through his knee.

“And I think if there was one thing that he believed that he could achieve it was that his 19-year-old son would never go through that experience, just as my 19-year-old son will never go through that experience.

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“Mark Francois’ remarks were obscene. They were wrong. They should be condemned.

“We should remember that is what we are up against.”

Glasgow University Principal Sir Anton Muscatelli also spoke at the event and warned of how Brexit would impact upon the Erasmus programme.

The academic said that 12% of funding could be lost through a lack of uptake in the scheme because of the border difficulties in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

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“Young people at my university keep telling me how much they value their feeling, that they belong to a common European home,” he said.

The panel of MPs, which included Green MSP Andy Wightman, LibDem MP Christine Jardine, Labour MP Ian Murray and SNP MP Joanna Cherry, each gave their view on the way forward before taking questions from the audience.

Cherry, focusing on which questions could be on the ballot for a People’s Vote, said that she supported Dominic Grieve MP’s amendment, suggesting that the choice should be “between the negotiated deal and Remain”.

She added: “I can tell you as a lawyer, that it would be extremely difficult for the British law officers to authorise no-deal on a ballot paper because it would involve the breaking of international obligations.

“That is why the backstop is so important. It has to be there because of the UK’s international obligations in terms of the Good Friday Agreement. That’s why we need to think hard if we could ever – as democrats and people who believe in the rule of law – have a no-deal on a ballot paper.”