NICOLA Sturgeon is under increasing pressure to commit to a second referendum and name a date as former first minister Alex Salmond described a new poll as “inevitable”.
With the First Minister in China, Mr Salmond made it clear he believes the conditions for a new independence referendum have been met due to the continued austerity from the Tory government and his view that “The Vow” on more powers made by the UK party leaders, including Prime Minister David Cameron, has not been fulfilled.
Abandoning the previous mantra that a referendum would happen “when the people of Scotland decide”, he said that it is now “in Nicola Sturgeon’s hands.”
The comments have been taken by political opponents as a sign that Ms Sturgeon is losing control of her party, with hardline Nationalists pressing for a second referendum as the party prepares to write its manifesto for the Holyrood election next year.
Pressure for a second poll was highlighted over the weekend in comments from newly elected SNP East Lothian MP George Kerevan.
He said: “It is an issue that cannot be ignored. The best thing would be for the leadership to come forward with some proposals on how to deal with it.
“It cannot be left until the campaigning season is well under way. We need clarity.”
Meanwhile SNP Edinburgh Western MP Colin Keir has already promised a second referendum in his re-election literature for next year.
Conservative Scottish Secretary David Mundell was also recently asked by newly elected Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP Margaret Ferrier about what contingency plans his department is preparing for a second referendum.
He accused the SNP of using “talk of the referendum as a cloak” to avoid talking about the party’s record in government in Holyrood and what they would do with the new powers being devolved.
The talk of a second referendum comes despite pledges from Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon that last year’s one was a “once in a generation” event.
Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Salmond said: “I think a second independence referendum is inevitable.
“The question, of course, is not the inevitability; it is the timing – and that is very much in the hands of Nicola Sturgeon.”
He also said two of the three possible triggers for a referendum have already been met.
He claimed a failure to meet the promises of The Vow would trigger a referendum
He also said a referendum would happen if Scotland voted to remain in the EU but the UK voted to leave.
And, in what appeared to be a new front, he also warned that continued austerity by the UK government would also lead to a second referendum.
He said: “The Vow was about home rule, devo to the max, near-federalism, to quote Gordon Brown.
“That has not been delivered – as yet, at least – in the Scotland Bill, so that’s an issue.
“The second issue is the one that’s been cast up quite a lot, and that’s the European issue.
“If you had a situation, a circumstance where Scotland voted to stay in the European Union in a referendum but was dragged out on the votes of the people of England, then that would be a material change in circumstance.”
He added: “And the third thing emerging, of course, comes out from the Budget and the Welfare Bill, which is austerity. Instead of getting devo to the max, we’re getting austerity to the max, and that divergent view of what’s right in social terms between Scotland and England is another issue which is moving things towards another referendum.”
A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “Nicola Sturgeon is going to have a hard time containing her new MPs who were selected by their local parties on a promise of a second referendum.
“And now, while Nicola Sturgeon is in Edinburgh or flying around the world, Alex Salmond is in Westminster drumming up pressure for another poll.
“It’s no surprise she’s had to come down to London every month since the election to stamp her authority on the SNP group and remind them who is in charge.”
Mr Mundell pressed Ms Sturgeon for clarification and said he was “disappointed” by the questions from Ms Ferrier about contingency plans for another referendum in light of statements made by the First Minister and her predecessor that the referendum was a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity.
Mr Mundell said: “Given the clear and repeated commitments of leading Yes campaigners, not least the First Minister herself, during the independence referendum campaign that the vote was a ‘once in a generation’ or ‘once in a lifetime’ event, and given that a clear majority of Scots voted No in that referendum, my department has not prepared contingency plans for the possibility of a further referendum being the policy of the Scottish Government after the Scottish Parliament election in 2016.” He added: “We’re approaching one year on from the referendum where the people of Scotland voted decisively to remain part of the United Kingdom.
“It does no favours to use talk of a second referendum as a cloak to avoid talking about what the Scottish Government can do with the powers they’ve got and what they can do with the substantial powers which are on the way through the Scotland Bill.”
Last night an SNP spokesman insisted that the policy had not changed: “The First Minister has made clear we are not planning another referendum, but equally it is not in the gift of any politician or party to rule it out indefinitely. The timing is a matter for the people of Scotland.”