Senior SNP figures have urged Nicola Sturgeon to stand firm on her plan for a second independence referendum despite the threat of another vote being blamed for the party’s dismal general election showing.
Prominent Nationalists, including general election casualties, believe indyref2 should remain on the table.
With Brexit negotiations beginning tomorrow there is a growing suspicion that the First Minister intends to delay laying out her next steps on how to deal with the referendum question – calculating that the talks may unravel in the meantime.
Ahead of this week’s Queen’s Speech, the UK government last night announced the coming parliamentary session would be doubled to two years to create enough time for politicians to consider Brexit legislation properly.
With the Conservatives making substantial gains on the back of their anti-indyref campaign, Sturgeon has acknowledged that her determination to press ahead with another independence vote was a factor in her party losing 21 seats.
She has promised to reflect on her plans. At the weekend, sources close to Sturgeon refused to say when she will issue a statement on the outcome of those “reflections”.
The Scottish Conservatives yesterday complained her failure to deal decisively with the issue is leaving the country “in limbo” as they repeated their calls to ditch indyref2.
But yesterday Alyn Smith, the SNP MEP who sits on the party’s national executive committee, said he did not think the general election result should change Sturgeon’s strategy.
Sturgeon announced that a second referendum was “on the table” the day after the UK voted to leave the EU last year.
She upped the ante earlier this year by declaring that she would seek a Section 30 order from the UK government to hold a referendum. Since then, and with the help of six Green MSPs, the SNP has voted at Holyrood to request a second referendum.
Before the election, Sturgeon said she would outline her “next steps” on the road to a referendum after the UK had gone to the polls.
But the SNP’s poor performance has put pressure on the First Minister to call off her plans.
Smith said the First Minister should stick to her guns, claiming that the public needed the option of an independence vote as the UK heads for withdrawal from the European Union.
“It staggers me that the Tories were able to pretend that the election was about indyref2 – a referendum that is not agreed – in order to distract from the consequences of an EU referendum which has happened and they are responsible for. Hats off, quite the coup,” said Smith.
“We are committed to giving the people of Scotland an informed choice. I remain absolutely committed to independence, absolutely committed to the fact that Scotland’s best future is independence within the EU and there are a lot of things that are in the mix.”
Sturgeon was warned against “over-reacting” to the general election result by Calum Kerr, one of his party’s many MPs to lose their seat to the resurgent Scottish Conservatives.
Kerr lost his Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk seat to the Tories’ John Lamont.
“I think that it’s important with any big event not to over-react at the time. It told of a change in voting patterns, but it is important not to over-react. The glaring imminent challenge is Brexit.
“I don’t think it changes the position we have always taken, which is about giving the people of Scotland the choice at the appropriate moment in the future.
“We know the damage that Brexit could do to our economy, so we want to focus on getting the right deal for Scotland, and as the Scottish Government’s Scotland in Europe plan said, we think the whole of the UK should stay in the single market and we gave options. So we are back to arguing that point.”
The uncertainty over Sturgeon’s position on a referendum saw her accused of a failure of leadership by the Scottish Tories.
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “In the week since the general election result, Nicola Sturgeon has shown a complete failure of leadership.
“Instead of listening to the message she was given, she has ignored people in Scotland who want her to take a second referendum off the table.
“Instead, we now face Scotland being left in limbo by a First Minister who is putting her job as SNP leader before her duty as First Minister.
“Scotland can’t be left hanging around while Nicola Sturgeon works out how to march her party faithful back down the hill. She needs to show some leadership and respond now.
“Scotland doesn’t want her referendum. Rule it out – now.”
Announcing the two-year parliamentary session, Andrea Leadsom, leader of the House of Commons, said: “Whilst our top priority right now is supporting the victims of the terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower, we also need to look ahead by setting out a legislative programme that not only delivers a successful EU exit but also a domestic agenda which aims to tackle the social injustices in our country.
“The UK will spend the next two years preparing for our departure from the European Union in a way that best places us to realise the opportunities ahead and build a fairer society.”