The Liberal Democrats have been accused of hypocrisy after Jo Swinson pledged to cancel Brexit if her party is elected to office, but insisted a second Scottish independence referendum should be blocked even if voters back a pro-independence majority at Holyrood.
Members gathered for their annual conference in Bournemouth overwhelmingly backed Ms Swinson’s call to make it Lib Dem policy to revoke Article 50 if the party wins an unlikely majority in a snap election.
But despite arguing that an election victory would give the Lib Dems a mandate to cancel Brexit, the East Dunbartonshire MP said an SNP majority at the next Scottish Parliament election would not justify a second independence referendum.
The motion passed at the party’s conference in Bournemouth says a Lib Dem majority government would be “recognised as an unequivocal mandate to revoke Article 50 and for the UK to stay in the EU”.
Asked whether an SNP victory when Scotland goes to the polls in 2021 would mean a fresh independence mandate, Ms Swinson said: “We’re in a situation with Brexit at the moment where we’re in the midst of a national crisis and we’re looking to find a way out.
“The situation Scotland is very different… indyref2 would be creating more uncertainty, more confusion, more difficulty, in a scenario where we already are experiencing all of that with Brexit.
“The last thing that Scotland needs is to have the extra uncertainty of indyref2 poured on top of that.”
The Scottish Lib Dem leader also ruled out granting a second independence referendum even if the SNP win a majority in 2021.
“We will be unequivocal in Scotland,” Willie Rennie said yesterday. “We are against another independence referendum, so if you vote for us that’s what you get… vote for us and we’ll stop independence dead in its tracks.”
SNP MSP Tom Arthur said the stance taken by Ms Swinson “shows LibDem hypocrisy knows no bounds”.
“This fundamental contradiction is so clear for everyone to see,” he said. “You can’t pick and choose when to support democracy.”
Speaking during the debate at Bournemouth earlier, Edinburgh West MP Christine Jardine said the policy meant the Lib Dems had “faith in the people”.
“Do we want a referendum? Yes we do,” Ms Jardine said. “But we are running out of time… so let’s have faith in the people to vote for us to put Jo Swinson in Number 10 so she can revoke Article 50 - and then we can say, yes, we stopped Brexit.”
But while the policy was supported overwhelmingly by Lib Dem activists, during the debate critics raised the issue of the precedent it would set in Scotland.
Party grandee and former minister Sir Simon Hughes told delegates in Bournemouth: “How can we argue against the Scottish National policy in Scotland that if they had a majority at their next election, they should not have the right in Holyrood to decide that Scotland could be independent?”
And a senior Lib Dem source at Westminster told the Scotsman that despite broad support for the new position, within the party “there is a bit of rumbling under the surface about this”.
“It all came quite suddenly, about ten days ago,” the source said. “There’s a feeling that there hasn’t been much consultation.
“There’s the issue with the SNP, and you can put the words ‘our position is completely clear’ before it, but it still leaves us open to the same accusation that people make of Labour: we’re having it both ways.”
SNP MP Angus MacNeill, who has called for the Scottish Government to explore alternative routes to independence if it is prevented from organising another referendum, said
“The Lib Dems are guilty of multi-hypocrisies,” Mr MacNeill said. “If [Ms Swinson’s] position is that she gets a direct mandate and leap frogs the referendum result then the SNP should do the same.”