Nicola Sturgeon has claimed she had an “unquestionable, democratic mandate” for a second independence referendum, hours before Holyrood is expected to back holding another poll.
The First Minister defended her proposal to go for a second vote as she came under sustained attack from pro-Union politicians in a fiery debate at the Scottish Parliament.
On Wednesday, the SNP’s 63 MSPs are expected to combine with six Green members to pass Ms Sturgeon’s motion to formally seek permission from the UK government for an independence vote.
Prime Minister Theresa May has already indicated she will stand in the way of Ms Sturgeon’s plan to hold a referendum between autumn 2018 and spring the following year saying “now is not the time” for another vote.
In the first session of a two-day debate, Ms Sturgeon insisted it would be “wrong, unfair and utterly unsustainable” for Westminster block her plans. But the SNP leader was accused of taking a “bulldozer” approach to a second referendum and was told the Scottish people are “sick to death” of the SNP’s independence “games”.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said most people in Scotland did not want another referendum “any time soon” and claimed the SNP had adopted a “tinpot” approach to seeking one.
This isn’t the gold standard. It’s a tinpot approach to the biggest decision we could ever be asked to makeRUTH DAVIDSON
Ms Sturgeon argued her mandate came from the SNP’s 2016 Scottish election manifesto, which said one should be held if there was “significant and material” change in circumstances – such as Scotland being taken out of the EU.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The suggestion that an emphatic election victory on the basis of a clear manifesto commitment and a parliamentary majority on an issue does not provide a mandate begs the question what does? And it runs the real risk of undermining the democratic process.”
The SNP leader repeated her argument that she has been forced into calling a referendum because of the UK government’s refusal to entertain the Scottish Government’s “compromise” proposals designed to protect Scotland’s relationship with the EU “In the circumstances we now face, for the UK government to stand in the way of Scotland even having a choice would be, in my view, wrong, unfair and utterly unsustainable,” she said.
Ms Davidson contrasted the SNP plans with the Edinburgh Agreement, signed by Alex Salmond and David Cameron,which underpinned the 2014 referendum.
“I remind the SNP today that they once described the last referendum – with the Edinburgh Agreement – unanimous backing in this chamber and 92 per cent support across the public as the ‘gold standard’ approach.
“This isn’t the gold standard. It’s a tinpot approach to the biggest decision we could ever be asked to make.”
Ms Davidson claimed the SNP were engaged in a “well-rehearsed game”. “Put forward an unworkable proposal. Wait for Westminster politicians to point that out and then rush to any nearby microphone, angry face on, to trot out the same old tired complaints,” Ms Davidson said.
“You know – once upon a time it might have worked. But not any more. Most people in Scotland are sick to death of the games. Most people in Scotland don’t want another referendum any time soon, just three years after the last one.”
Her comments came as it emerged that more than 200,000 people had signed an online petition calling for another independence vote to be blocked.
Pro-Union politicians also criticised the role played by the Greens, claiming they had broken the a commitment in their Scottish election manifesto, which said a referendum should come as a result of the will of the people and “not be driven by calculations of party political advantage”.
But Green co-convener Patrick Harvie argued it was “absurd” not to respond to the “fundamentally changed circumstances” of Brexit.
An independent Scotland’s relationship with the EU came under scrutiny. Despite Ms Sturgeon arguing that independence would enable Scotland to take up EU membership, Mr Harvie said he would be “open” to another referendum on the issue.
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie picked up on remarks by Alex Salmond in which the former first minister suggested Scotland would try and join the European Free Trade Association rather than the EU immediately after independence.
He said: “Now the SNP tell us they will not seek or guarantee membership of the European Union with their referendum.”
The SNP’s opponents accused Ms Sturgeon’s party of neglecting the “day job” of looking after education and health.
With the Scottish Government expected to set itself on a collision course with Mrs May, opposition MSPs argued that the SNP had failed to recognise when Ms Sturgeon’s minority government had been outvoted in the Scottish Parliament.
The Scottish Government has been defeated on its controversial football act and was recently outvoted over plans to merge the boards of the country’s enterprise agencies.
After voting against the notion of Highlands and Islands Enterprise losing its independent board, MSPs also voted to demand the Scottish Funding Council retain its own board.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “We have already heard from the First Minister about the need to respect the will of this parliament. If only she’d respected the mandate given to government by this chamber before now. If she had, several local NHS services would be free from the threat of closure hanging above their head. The First Minister would have banned fracking and she would have scrapped the football act too.
“So when this parliament votes for another referendum – as it inevitably will thanks to the perpetual crutch the Greens provide – let’s not pretend it reflects the will of the Scottish people.”