Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to drop the threat of an “illegitimate” second independence referendum after senior SNP figures failed to rule out holding an unofficial poll.
The SNP’s opponents said it would be “entirely unacceptable” to hold an independence referendum without the agreement of the UK government.
Scotland’s referendum is going to happen and no UK Prime Minister should dare stand in the way of Scottish democracyANGUS ROBERTSON
The possibility of the SNP holding an advisory poll arose when SNP politicians, including the First Minister, declined to reject the idea when repeatedly questioned about it.
Today in her speech at the SNP conference, the First Minister will indicate that she is prepared to compromise on the timing of a second independence referendum and discuss the date with the Prime Minister.
In an interview with STV, Ms Sturgeon said “various options” were open to her following Theresa May’s decision to block another poll until a Brexit deal has been done. “Just because the Prime Minister has said No does not mean I immediately scurry off and say ‘well, that’s that’,” the First Minister said, as SNP delegates gathered for the opening day of the SNP conference in Aberdeen. The First Minister said it was the Scottish Government’s “intention” to hold a legal poll through a Section 30 order that transfers referendum powers from Westminster to Holyrood.
But when asked if holding an vote without UK government agreement was a possibility, Ms Sturgeon said: “I will consider what options I have if I have to get to that point.”
Speculation that the SNP would go for their own poll was fuelled at a conference fringe meeting when Brexit minister Michael Russell said a formal request for a Section 30 order “is the right thing to do” – although he added: “If the envelope is returned unopened we are in a different position.”
Earlier Deputy First Minister John Swinney also declined to rule out going down the advisory referendum route when interviewed on radio.
In his opening address to conference, SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson insisted the SNP would have a referendum, claiming the Conservatives were scared of losing an independence vote.
“Let there be no doubt, Scotland will have its referendum and the people of this country will have their choice. They will not be denied their say,” Mr Robertson said.
“Scotland’s referendum is going to happen and no UK Prime Minister should dare stand in the way of Scottish democracy.”
In his conference speech, finance secretary Derek Mackay accused the UK government of “breathtaking” arrogance.
“An unelected Prime Minister telling our elected First Minister what she can and can’t do,” Mr Mackay said.
“A majority of MSPs support Scottish independence. And those MSPs carry a mandate to hold another referendum whether Westminster likes it or not.”
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw hit back, drawing comparisons with the 2014 consultative referendum held in Catalonia without the permission of Madrid.
Mr Carlaw said: “The SNP’s only reason for existing is to rip Scotland out of the UK. That’s why the party refuses to rule out any means of achieving this, including a nonsense Catalan castanets consultative referendum.
“Such a process would make Scotland the laughing stock of the world.
“The 2014 referendum was legal and fair, but a wildcat version – as so many SNP members seem to want – would be anything but. It appears Nicola Sturgeon’s half-baked SNP’s referendum plans are descending into chaos.”
Scottish Labour Westminster spokesman Ian Murray said it was wrong to hold a referendum without the Scottish and UK governments striking a deal like the Edinburgh Agreement, which underpinned the 2014 poll.
Mr Murray said: “The SNP must withdraw the threat to impose an illegitimate and divisive referendum. Scotland is divided enough already without the Nationalists seeking to divide us even further.
“Scottish Labour will vote against the SNP’s plan for another divisive referendum in the Scottish Parliament next week. We believe that together we are stronger by remaining in the UK.”
Today Ms Sturgeon will ask the Prime Minister to “think again” on her decision to block a referendum and will offer to discuss timing of a poll with her.
But the offer in the First Minister’s keynote speech at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre will come with a warning.
Ahead of next week’s Holyrood vote that will see a majority of MSPs back calls for a referendum, Ms Sturgeon will tell Mrs May that defying the will of Holyrood would “shatter” the idea of the UK being a partnership of equals.
Ms Sturgeon will call for Scots – whatever their views on independence – to unite behind her view that Scottish people should have the right to choose their own future.
The SNP leader will say that next week’s vote will see a referendum become the “will of the democratically elected parliament of Scotland”.
She will say: “To stand in defiance of it would be for the Prime Minister to shatter beyond repair any notion of the UK as a respectful partnership of equals.
“She has time to think again and I hope she does. If her concern is timing then – within reason – I am happy to have that discussion. But she should be in no doubt. The will of our parliament must and will prevail.”