Nicola Sturgeon has piled further pressure on the UK government over a second independence referendum, demanding control over the timing, franchise and question of any future poll.
The First Minister took to social media yesterday to fight suggestions that she lacks the mandate for an early re-run of the 2014 vote, saying Prime Minister Theresa May was “not yet elected by anyone”.
Responding to reports that the UK government could refuse to grant a second referendum until after the Holyrood elections in 2021, dependent on the SNP winning an outright majority, Ms Sturgeon said the SNP was elected with a larger share of the vote than the Conservatives, and claimed the Prime Minister should not be “trading mandates”.
Following a meeting of the Scottish Cabinet at Bute House yesterday morning, ministers insisted that any future referendum must be “made in Scotland”. There should be “no strings attached, no blocking mechanism applied”, Ms Sturgeon said, although she accepted the terms of the vote would be subject to independent scrutiny.
Ahead of the 2014 referendum, the details of vote were negotiated between the UK and Scottish governments and formalised in the Edinburgh Agreement.
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont accused the First Minister of mounting a “power grab” and contradicting the SNP’s position on the Edinburgh Agreement.
Theresa May is not ruling out a referendum in the future, but now is not the right timeBernard Jenkin
He said: “It [the SNP] said the Edinburgh Agreement – which paved the way for a fair, legal and decisive referendum – was the ‘gold standard’. Nicola Sturgeon needs to explain why she no longer believes this approach is right.”
Mrs May told a meeting of the Westminster Cabinet in Downing Street that the SNP had “tunnel vision” on independence and a second referendum should not take place.
Ministers discussed Ms Sturgeon’s request for a new poll, but Downing Street sources said the UK government would not decide whether to grant a Section 30 order permitting a referendum until after the Scottish Parliament votes on Wednesday to endorse the First Minister’s call.
Opposition to a referendum before Brexit is completed has hardened on the Conservative benches in the Commons, with Tory backbenchers using a statement by the Prime Minister on last week’s EU Council meeting to denounce Ms Sturgeon’s timetable for a vote in 2018 or 2019 as “premature”.
Former Tory whip Mark Harper MP claimed the First Minister’s referendum demand was “premature” because “a lot of the detail” of Brexit would not be finalised until the end of the two-year negotiation in March 2019.
The Prime Minister was praised for her “very measured response” by Tory backbencher Bernard Jenkin, who said: “She is not ruling out a referendum in the future, but now is not the right time.”
Asked by Conservative MP Conor Burns to “vigorously resist anyone who uses this moment to try and destroy our precious United Kingdom”, Ms May replied that it was “important that we keep the Union of the United Kingdom together”.
“I do not want to see anybody engaging in constitutional game-playing with the future of the United Kingdom,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Church of Scotland has called on the UK government not to block a second independence referendum if the Scottish Parliament backs the request in a vote.
The Kirk’s Church and Society Council convener, the Reverend Dr Richard Frazer, said it would be “wrong” if permission for a second vote was withheld.
The church said it would maintain its neutral position held in the 2014 referendum.
Dr Frazer added that while there were legitimate fears another referendum would fuel division, “there is nothing inevitable about this debate being divisive and acrimonious”.