THERE has been much talk of a second referendum on Scottish independence in the aftermath of last month’s Brexit vote.
Nicola Sturgeon said in a keynote speech on Monday that independence may offer the most “certainty and stability” for Scotland if the UK opts to quit the European Union, as expected.
The First Minister has already gone on the record to say a second referendum on whether Scotland should go it alone is “highly likely”.
Scots, after all, backed continued EU membership by a clear majority.
The Scottish Conservatives have in turn claimed the SNP is merely looking for a “flimsy excuse” for another independence campaign.
Yet the ground has shifted. There have already been calls for the Yes and No cross-party campaigns of 2014 to be revived. A major pro-independence march is scheduled to take place in Glasgow on Saturday.
But could the Scottish Government really call a second referendum in the wake of the 2014 result which saw 55 per cent of Scots back the country’s place in the UK?
The SNP is two seats short of an overall majority at Holyrood, but the Greens have indicated they would support a new referendum bill if one was presented.
But any referendum backed by MSPs would only be advisory - it would not have firm legal status. All constitutional affairs are reserved to Westminster.
The 2014 referendum was ‘made in Scotland’ after the UK Government, then led by David Cameron, agreed to give temporary powers to the Scottish Parliament to hold a legal plebiscite, under Section 30 of the 1998 Scotland Act.
Cameron met with Alex Salmond to hammer out the finer points of the deal in October 2012 - an act which has since become known as the Edinburgh Agreement.
A similar arrangement would have to be reached if Holyrood were to call a second referendum in the future.
Some senior Tories - including David Mundell, secretary of state for Scotland - have suggested the UK Government would not block a second referendum if MSPs voted for it - but insisted there was little public appetite for one.
Yet Cameron’s successor as Prime Minister, Thersea May, appeared to rule out a new vote following her first meeting with Nicola Sturgeon.
“As far as I’m concerned, the Scottish people have had their vote, they voted in 2014 and a very clear message came through. Both the United Kingdom and the Scottish Government said they would abide by that,” she said.
Of course, there is nothing to stop the SNP and the Greens from passing a referendum bill and holding a vote even without Westminister approval.
But such a course of action would be fraught with difficulties. Opposition parties could call for a boycott, and a smaller turn-out of voters would weaken the legitimacy of such a vote.
The SNP may be hesitant to call a non-binding referendum given the experience of Catalonia.
The coastal region held an independence vote in November 2014 which saw 80 per cent of participants backing its separation from Spain.
But the Spanish Government in Madrid declared in advance the process was illegal and would ignore the results regardless.
Both the Scottish and UK Governments are unlikely to wish to see a similar legal quagmire - and the resulting bad blood between devolved and central governments - developing here.