SNP split on whether to press on with independence referendum

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during FMQs at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during FMQs at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
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Senior SNP figures have split over the party’s most fundamental belief, with some arguing a second Scottish independence referendum should be “parked” until after Brexit while others have urged Nicola Sturgeon to press ahead.

Tommy Sheppard MP became the latest nationalist figure to call for a pause on independence, joining the likes of Alex Neil MSP, former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, and ex-SNP head of policy Alex Bell.

But Calum Kerr, who lost his Westminster seat two weeks ago, said his party shouldn’t “over-react” to the election result, and was backed by the MEP Alyn Smith.

There has been speculation that a second independence referendum, which Ms Sturgeon previously said would take place by spring 2019, could be ‘rebranded’ as a vote on the terms of the UK’s Brexit deal.

However, the First Minister has dismissed media reports, saying the SNP is still “reflecting” on the election, in which the party lost 21 MPs, and will set out its referendum plans in due course.

Mr Sheppard wrote in a column yesterday: “It is now an option to wait until the Brexit negotiations conclude before forming a view on whether the extent of change justifies a second independence referendum as a result.

“It follows, therefore, that “This would mean that whilst a second referendum remains an option, the timetable gets parked.”

Meanwhile, Mr Bell said the party should “shut up about indyref2”.

However, Mr Smith told Scotland on Sunday he was “absolutely committed to independence” despite the general election result. “We are committed to giving the people of Scotland an informed choice,” he said.

And Mr Kerr said of the SNP’s election result: “It told of a change in voting patterns, but it is important not to over-react.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland programme the party is continuing to “consider” its proposal for a further referendum.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell said there were “no circumstances” under which a second independence referendum would be allowed to go ahead before the 2021 Holyrood elections, and accused Ms Sturgeon of being in denial.

Mr Mundell told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland: “The people of Scotland sent Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP a very, very clear message in last week’s General Election - with the cataclysmic performance of the SNP compared to the 2015 general election. They want that threat of an independence referendum taken off the table.

“Nicola Sturgeon should not be in denial about that. She should wake up, smell the coffee and be absolutely clear with the people of Scotland.”