Sturgeon announces legislation for second Scottish independence vote

13 Oct 16

An enabling Bill to pave the way for a second referendum on Scottish independence is to be published at Holyrood next week, first minister Nicola Sturgeon told today’s opening session of the Scottish National Party conference in Glasgow.

It will set in motion the initial consultation stages of a legislative process that would allow Scotland to vote again on independence before the UK leaves the European Union, Sturgeon said.

“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 told cheering delegates. 

“So, I can confirm today that the Independence Referendum Bill will be published for consultation next week.”

Sturgeon also confirmed that the SNP’s 54 MPs would vote against the UK government’s so-called Great Repeal Bill to prepare for Brexit when it comes before the Commons, insisting that Scotland did not vote for Brexit and therefore neither would the SNP.

Her speech coincided with a new opinion poll, which suggests that while support for another independence vote has grown since June’s European Union referendum – when 62% of Scots and a majority in all 32 municipalities voted to remain in the EU – not enough minds have yet been changed for Sturgeon to be sure of overturning the 2014 margin of 55-45 against independence.

The BMG poll for the Herald newspaper found that 12% of those who have been opposed to a second referendum now believed that the Brexit vote had changed circumstances sufficiently to justify IndyRef2, as it is nicknamed.

This would leave the numbers for and against holding IndyRef2 almost evenly balanced, with 15% undecided, and much would be likely to hang on what starts to emerge as the UK negotiates the details of the Brexit settlement with the EU.

Some senior SNP figures, including former Cabinet secretaries Kenny MacAskill and Alex Neil, have been counselling caution on another referendum, convinced that a second defeat could set the cause of independence back a generation. Sturgeon herself is notably wary of being bounced into a premature vote.

Others, among them Sturgeon’s immediate predecessor as first minister, Alex Salmond, have urged her to strike while the iron of Scottish anger over the UK Brexit vote remains hot.

A further uncertainty lies in the fact that constitutional affairs, including the power to call referendums, remain reserved to Westminster. UK Ministers have made clear their opposition to a second independence vote, though a focused demand from the Scottish parliament, where independence supporters are in the majority, might prove politically hard to refuse.

Sturgeon’s decision to launch the IndyRef2 legislation was condemned by Scottish Conservative Leader Ruth Davidson as a recipe for uncertainty, division and upheaval. “This isn't the action of a First Minister of Scotland, but an SNP fundamentalist who puts independence first, last and always,” Davidson 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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