SNP has ‘no early independence referendum plans’

Alyn Smith, one of the SNP's two MEPs, says he doesn't think 'for a second' that a UK vote to quit the EU would trigger a referendum. Picture: DN Anderson

Alyn Smith, one of the SNP's two MEPs, says he doesn't think 'for a second' that a UK vote to quit the EU would trigger a referendum. Picture: DN Anderson

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A SENIOR figure in the SNP has said there will not be another independence referendum in the “foreseeable” future, claiming “nobody” in the party is seriously discussing bringing forward a second poll.

At the end of a week dominated by talk of the possibility of a re-run of the 2014 vote, a member of the SNP’s leadership team has said it is time to concentrate on improving the economy and to respect the decision made just over a year ago when Scotland voted No.

Alyn Smith, one of the SNP’s two MEPs and a member of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), claimed his view is shared by other senior figures in the party who agree that the country is not ready for another referendum.

Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Smith said the SNP was focused on the campaign for next year’s elections.

“There is nobody in the SNP, truly there is nobody, talking about bringing forward another referendum. We’re shattered. Our focus is Holyrood right now, we want to make sure we get a solid result for Holyrood, the manifesto is being prepared,” Smith said.

Last week, the first anniversary of the referendum was marked with a series of events at which the prospect of holding another independence poll was the overriding theme.

Over the last few days Yes supporters have taken to the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh to demand another poll, despite SNP politicians saying last year that the referendum was a once in a generation opportunity.

Former SNP leader Alex Salmond also declared that momentum was growing for independence as Yes supporters called for another vote to be held soon.

In a keynote speech on the referendum anniversary, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested the United Kingdom was “living on borrowed time”.

Sturgeon’s nuanced speech contained a mixed message, designed to appeal to hardline independence supporters as well as manage their expectations.

Her warning to David Cameron that independence was still very much on the agenda was tempered with a cautionary note to her supporters telling them there would be no “shortcuts” to achieving it.

Speaking in Brussels, Smith put it more bluntly, saying he recognised there was not the “appetite” for another referendum beyond the hardcore support for independence.

As a member of the NEC, Smith sits on the body with responsibility for the party’s strategic direction.

He said the party was having private discussions about what went wrong last year including the Yes campaign’s much-criticised plan for an independent Scotland to have formal currency union with the rest of the UK.

“That [a currency union] was our proposition then. I don’t think there is anything that binds our hands [to that] in the hypothetical event of a future referendum, which is still something that remains, as far as I can see, a prospect that’s not in the foreseeable,” Smith said.

Smith was asked about the events that could trigger a second referendum including the possibility of Scotland voting to remain in the EU but being forced to leave because the UK as a whole had voted to leave.

The MEP said he did not “for a second” think it was “automatic” that a UK exit from Europe would influence the timing of a Scottish independence referendum.

Smith said No voters would not thank the SNP for bringing forward a referendum when there were economic challenges to be faced.

“There’s a lot of other things going on in Scotland that we need to be kicking on; the economy, people are still having a recession, there’s lots of people still struggling in their day-to-day,” he said. “I don’t think there’s an appetite for it, beyond the 30 per cent of the population that really wants to see this happen. They’ll always want to see this happen and that is great, that’s my team, but in terms of the others I just don’t think we would be thanked for bringing it forward.”

He added: “The big thing from our prospective is Yes, absolutely. We are still pro-independence but we are still licking our wounds. Bringing it forward anytime soon would be  a massive effort and the focus is Holyrood.”

The MEP also tacitly criticised Salmond’s approach of blaming the BBC’s referendum coverage for being biased against Yes.

“The more we talk about not accepting the result of the Scottish people, ‘we wuz robbed, the BBC was against us’ etc – I just don’t see that it helps,” he said.

“There’s lots of work to do. I’m utterly pro-independence still. I don’t think we lost the argument, but we assuredly lost the vote. We need to be a bit sanguine about that and just get on with the day-to-day job the people of Scotland have sent us to do.”

While other senior party figures have complained that the UK government is failing to keep the vow made in the dying moments of last year’s campaign, the MEP said there was scope for the SNP to engage with the more powers process begun by the cross-party agreement under Lord Smith of Kelvin.

“I think we can have a discussion about the Smith Commission process, which, with all its faults, is an on-going thing and I think that’s where people want us to be,” Smith said.

Smith claimed his views were shared by others in the SNP.

“Of all the people I’ve been speaking to in the party, the signs from the old hands… of all the chats I have had, and we’ve had plenty of them, we’re pragmatists.

“Nicola has had the best line on this – that it will happen when the people of Scotland want it to happen – and I don’t think the people want it to happen any time soon, not least because the practicalities are as we know a very considerable undertaking.

“The referendum happens when the people of Scotland want it to happen, which I don’t think is any time soon.  In exactly the same way pre-referendum that we built the case for independence by demonstrating competence and pragmatism, we carry on with that.”

Smith’s comments were welcomed by the SNP’s opponents. Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “Alyn Smith appears to be talking sense here – it’s a shame senior members of the party in Scotland won’t listen.

“People want the SNP to get on with the day job, not rabble rouse and issue threats on the prospect of a repeat referendum.

“But voters will be rightly confused, because while the SNP’s man in Brussels says this, Nicola Sturgeon is using aggressive phrases like ‘the UK is on borrowed time.’”

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