First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today confirmed her intention to hold a vote on Scottish independence on October 23 next year. It would take place less than a decade after the first ballot on the matter when Scots made clear their desire to remain a part of the UK’s historic union by 55 percent to 45 percent.
The SNP claims it has a mandate for a fresh referendum after a majority of pro-independence candidates were elected to the Scottish Parliament last year.
Constitutionally, the power to hold a referendum lies with Westminster, but Ms Sturgeon intends to challenge that in the Supreme Court.
Boris Johnson has always ruled out giving permission for a future referendum in the past, but today No10 appeared to soften opposition to the prospect of a new vote.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister this afternoon admitted Mr Johnson continues to believe it is “not the time to be talking about” IndyRef2 but refused to rule out granting permission for a vote.
He said: “Our position remains unchanged that both ours and the Scottish Government’s priority should be working together with a relentless focus on the issues that we know matter to people up and down the country.
“That remains our priority, but a decision has been taken by the First Minister, so we will carefully study the details of the proposal, and the Supreme Court will now consider whether to accept the Scottish Government’s Lord Advocate referral”.
Ms Sturgeon is hoping that by making the referendum consultative – non-binding – the vote will receive consent from the courts.
Announcing her preferred referendum date today, she said: “We know that legislative competence can only be determined judicially.
“And we know that for as long as there is no judicial determination, opinions will differ and doubt will continue to be cast on the lawful basis for the referendum.
“That benefits only those parties opposed to independence.”
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She added that if the courts ruled against Ms Sturgeon’s plan she would run the next general election as a “de facto referendum”.
Conservatives have described the SNP’s latest push for independence as a distraction from the issues facing Scotland.
Mr Johnson told reports as he travelled to Madrid for the Nato summit this afternoon: “The focus of the country should be on building a stronger economy, that’s what we’re doing with our plan for a stronger economy and I certainly think that we’ll be able to have a stronger economy and a stronger country together.”
The party’s Scotland leader, Douglas Ross, urged Ms Sturgeon to stop her “selfish obsession” with a new vote and instead focus on the issues facing everyday households.
“A potentially illegal referendum next year is the wrong priority for Scotland,” he said.
He added: “We won’t play Nicola Sturgeon’s games. We won’t take part in a pretend poll when there is real work to be done.
“Real work on the global cost-of-living crisis, real work to invest in public services, real work to rebuild our economy.
“Those are our priorities and they’re the priorities of people across Scotland as well.”