Nicola Sturgeon has delayed outlining how she intends to progress a second referendum until after the June election, it has emerged.
The First Minister had originally indicated she would set out the “next steps” she would take to hold an independence vote between autumn next year and spring 2019 in the weeks after the recent Easter break.
It then emerged that her plans would not be made clear until after the local elections on May 4. Now the First Minister’s official spokesman has said Ms Sturgeon will wait until after the June 8 snap election before setting out what she intends to do.
At a post-Cabinet briefing, Ms Sturgeon’s spokesman said: “Early thinking had been to come back to parliament after the local election. But there’s another election now, so we are looking to the other side of the General Election to come back to that.”
Earlier this week, Ms Sturgeon claimed the General Election was not about Scottish independence saying it would not determine whether or not it would happen. She spoke as a Kantar poll suggested support for independence was weakening.
The Nationalists’ attempts to frame the June election an opportunity to vote for the SNP to protect Scotland from an austerity driven Tory party has seen them try to push independence into the background. The toning down of independence rhetoric has been happening since Prime Minister Theresa May first announced the snap election,
Then, Ms Sturgeon’s initial reaction was to say the 8 June vote was a chance to “reinforce” her mandate for a second referendum.
The SNP and the six Green MSPs combined to give a Holyrood majority for holding another vote and Ms Sturgeon has written to the Prime Minister saying the UK government should respect the will of the Scottish Parliament.
But at the STUC conference in Aviemore, Ms Sturgeon said: “People who want to make sure Scotland has strong voices against the Conservatives at this election need to vote SNP because that is what this election, above all else, is about.
“The election won’t decide whether or not Scotland becomes independent – we got a mandate for a referendum in the election last year.”
Efforts to remove independence from the centre of discussions have coincided with polls suggesting that appetite for the SNP’s plans to break up the United Kingdom is not rising.
This week a Kantar poll of 1,060 Scots found only 26 per cent support Ms Sturgeon’s timetable for another independence referendum. While 46 per cent said there should not be another vote at all.
When “don’t knows” were excluded from the equation, the survey found 60 per cent would vote No compared with 40 per cent Yes voters.
Last night Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said Ms Sturgeon risked turning herself into a “laughing stock” over independence.
“For the last few months, everyone in Scotland has seen her do nothing else but campaign for an unwanted second independence referendum.
“Yet now there’s an election on, she suddenly tells people independence isn’t the issue for her and orders her troops – don’t mention the ‘i’ word. After the last few months of talking about nothing else, who does she think she’s kidding?
“We’ve heard it all before. At every election, the SNP says the vote has nothing to do with independence. Afterwards, it claims that separation is ever closer.” “More and more people in Scotland have wised up to these nationalist games.”
Ms Davidson added: “More and more of them know that only the Scottish Conservatives have what it takes to stop the SNP in its tracks and say no to its plans to split our country in two. This time round, she won’t get away with it.”