Scotland sets out plans for second independence referendum

20 Oct 16

The legislative blueprint for a second Scottish independence referendum, procedurally similar to the vote that rejected independence 55-45 two years ago, is published today by the Scottish Government.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted that the preparations for what has been nicknamed IndyRef2 represent a fallback position to defend Scottish interests if Scotland fails to secure both effective representation in the Brexit negotiations and continued membership of the European single market, in line with Scotland’s clear majority at June’s European referendum for remaining inside the EU.

But the move also ramps up the pressure on Theresa May ahead of talks with Sturgeon scheduled for next Monday on Scotland’s position in the UK’s exit negotiations. It presents May with a political challenge too on whether to defy Holyrood’s will over IndyRef2, given that constitutional matters, including the power to sanction referendums, are reserved to Westminster.

Sturgeon signalled a readiness to confront that prospect head-on: “Any decision on holding a referendum, including the timing of it, would be for the Scottish Parliament to take, having considered all the options for Scotland’s future relationship with the EU and the associated impact of being forced to leave against our will.

“My priority is clear – we will do everything we can to protect Scotland’s interests,”  Sturgeon said.

“We will continue to work UK-wide to seek to avert a hard Brexit and we will also bring forward proposals that seek to protect our place in the single market, even if the rest of the UK leaves.

“However, if we find that our interests cannot be properly or fully protected within a UK context then independence must be one of the options open to us and the Scottish people must have the right to consider it.”

Introducing the draft Bill, Derek Mackay, who has Scottish Cabinet responsibility for constitutional issues, said the procedures for any IndyRef2 would follow closely the “gold standard in terms of fairness, transparency and propriety” set by the first independence referendum in September 2014.

“The franchise will be the same as that for the Scottish Parliament,”  Mackay said. “That will mean two important groups of people would have a voice denied to them in the recent referendum on EU membership: 16 and 17 year-olds and citizens of EU countries who have made Scotland their home.”

Ministers are also understood to be minded to repeat the 2014 ballot paper question – “Should Scotland be an independent country?” – though such details could be amended in the light of the public consultation, which runs to 11 January 2017. “In stark contrast with the UK Government, we have a clear plan of action,” Mackay said.

The move has been roundly condemned by Scottish opposition leaders, though they too favoured the UK remaining in the EU.  The Conservatives’ Ruth Davidson said: “Instead of using Brexit to further her own political ambitions, Nicola Sturgeon should be working closely with the UK government to address the risks and explore the opportunities this decision creates for industries and sectors across Scotland.”

Labour’s Dave Anderson called Sturgeon’s strategy “reckless”.

But the Scottish Greens, who support independence, welcomed the draft Bill, with co-convenor Patrick Harvie urging Westminster not to try to block a referendum. “It would be foolish for the UK government to stand in Scotland’s way, having already disregarded the 62% who voted to Remain earlier this year,” he said.

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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