NICOLA Sturgeon has warned David Cameron that he does not have the authority to stop a second independence referendum as her army of 56 SNP MPs arrived in Westminster yesterday.
The First Minister refused to rule out another referendum as her party’s new MPs were met by cheering crowds and saltire flags as they gathered in front of Parliament for a photocall after carrying almost all before them last week in the general election.
Ms Sturgeon’s message to the Prime Minister was echoed by her new MPs, who warned Mr Cameron that they have a greater mandate than he does.
In the wake of the Nationalists’ dramatic success, Mr Cameron said: “There isn’t going to be another referendum.”
He went on: “We had the referendum and the SNP aren’t pushing for another referendum, actually.
“Nicola Sturgeon said the vote in the general election was not about another referendum.”
“Whether there is another referendum or not is really down to what people in Scotland want, there can’t be another referendum unless people vote for it”Nicola Sturgeon
But the Prime Minister’s insistence that he would not countenance another referendum brought a sharp rebuke from Ms Sturgeon. The First Minister said she was “not planning” to hold another such ballot but refused to rule it out, claiming it was up to the people of Scotland to decide.
Ms Sturgeon had argued throughout the recent election campaign that a vote for her party was not a vote for Scotland to leave the UK.
But she said the result of the election, which saw the SNP win a record 56 seats at Westminster, was “beyond our wildest expectations”.
She has also said there would have to be some change in political circumstances – such as Scotland leaving the European Union against its will after an in/out EU referendum – before the SNP would put such a commitment in its manifesto.
However, the SNP leader told ITV’s Loose Women: “We had that debate and that vote last year, and Scotland, against my better efforts, opted to stay part of the United Kingdom, to stay part of the Westminster system.
“It therefore is really important to us now that we get better politics out of Westminster because decisions that are taken there impact on the lives of people in Scotland just as they do elsewhere.”
She added: “I’m not planning another referendum. Why I stop short of saying I absolutely guarantee it is the same reason I don’t think David Cameron has got any right to rule it out.
“Whether there is another referendum or not is really down to what people in Scotland want – there can’t be another referendum unless people vote for it. I can’t impose it on Scotland if Scotland doesn’t want it.”
Her comments came as the SNP’s 56 MPs gathered at Westminster ahead of taking the oath next week.
Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss, who defeated former Scottish Labour deputy leader Anas Sarwar, admitted to being “bewildered” by her new surroundings.
But she insisted she was there to represent her constituency “first and foremost”.
The new MP for Dundee West, Chris Law, underlined the feelings many of them had about the Parliament when he described the briefing that he received on rules and language.
He said: “I had to say please stop, I can’t take any more.”
He said that his chief aim was to help tackle austerity.
He said: “Dundee got the name ‘sanctions city’ because of the benefits sanctions.
“But when you see the individual tragic stories linked to them, then you realise something has to change.”
He pointed out that in the five years of the coalition, the number of people using food banks in Scotland had gone from 400 to 117,000.
“That’s enough to fill Murrayfield twice and it’s just wrong,” he said.
Meanwhile, East Lothian MP George Kerevan highlighted his belief that the SNP has more of a mandate in Westminster than the majority Tory government.
“You have to remember we got 52 per cent of the vote in Scotland while the Tories have a majority on just 36 per cent of the vote,” said Mr Kerevan.
He said that getting more powers to Scotland and boosting the minimum wage were among his priorities.
His comments were echoed by Alex Salmond, who described Mr Cameron’s mandate across the UK as “very, very shaky”.
Mr Salmond warned of “political consequences” if the SNP was thwarted in its attempts to end austerity and gain more powers for Scotland.
He added: “It’s no hardship for me to oppose Conservative governments and Conservative prime ministers.”
Amid speculation that he is being sidelined by the new leadership, Mr Salmond also acknowledged that he did the right thing to hand over the leadership to Ms Sturgeon.
He said: “I loved being first minister, but everyone has his time. I think things are turning out not too badly, as I see it.”
One of the issues to be resolved was whether the SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, would remain in his post.
But last night it appeared that the Moray MP would be re-elected unopposed after he was nominated by SNP depute leader Stewart Hosie and received the support of Mr Salmond. Mr Robertson said: “It has been an honour to lead the Westminster SNP group for the last eight years and it would be an honour to continue as group leader of the record-sized SNP parliamentary party.”
Mr Hosie said: “Angus has been a successful Westminster SNP group leader since 2007 and he is highly thought of and respected, not just within the SNP but across the House of Commons.”
The SNP have been confirmed as the third party in the Commons, which allows them to have two questions at Prime Minister’s Questions, to be called for every debate and to chair two committees.