Independence referendum 'should not be delayed' due to Ukraine, claims Scottish Green leader as postponement push described as unionist campaign

A second independence referendum should not be delayed due to global events, a Scottish Green minister has said, amid claims the war in Ukraine is being used as another excuse by unionists to block a vote.

Patrick Harvie, speaking to The Scotsman ahead of his party’s conference in Stirling this weekend, said arguments the conflict in Ukraine should see preparations for indyref2 stopped were part of a wider campaign to block the vote for any reason.

He also suggested the Scottish Government is set to shun the ‘white paper’ model of the 2014 referendum in favour of a broader, more open-ended prospectus for independence ahead of any vote.

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Party leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater beside the Wallace Monument at the Stirling Court Hotel ahead of the Scottish Green Party conference. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

His co-leader, Lorna Slater, also said the Government was working with “good intentions” towards holding another independence vote in 2023.

She said unionists did not have a strong case for the union and those seeking to block a referendum taking place did not have the “courage of their convictions”.

The comments come as the Scottish Green leaders:

- Reaffirmed their commitment to oppose Nato membership for an independent Scotland;

- Said Conservative claims that accelerating domestic oil and gas production would “deal a blow” to Russia were “inaccurate”;

- Claimed the nuclear deterrent had failed to “keep the peace”.

In a stance expected to re-open the debate in nationalist ranks, Mr Harvie said he believed the Scottish Government had a duty to continue accelerating its domestic agenda despite the growing humanitarian crisis amid the conflict in Ukraine.

Asked whether preparations of indyref2 should be paused until the end of the war, the minister for zero carbon buildings said such an argument was a tactic used by those who are against a vote ever being held.

He said: “I think those who never want Scotland to be able to ask ourselves the question again about independence will always find some kind of reason why it shouldn’t be developed.

"Very clearly the current Ukraine crisis is the biggest humanitarian crisis in Europe’s history since the Second World War and needs to be uppermost in all of our minds and is.

"None of us know where that’s going to be in a year, year-and-a-half’s time.

"I think it would be wrong to start putting off all of the other promises for action that we’ve made, whether it is on independence or any of the other elements in the Government’s Programme for Government over the course of this Parliament.

"It would be wrong to just shelve everything else. There’s a great deal else that we have to get on with, including respecting the right of the people of Scotland to make a democratic choice about their future.”

Ms Slater, minister for the circular economy, said she could not “predict the future” when asked whether a second independence referendum would happen in 2023 as pledged by Nicola Sturgeon.

She said: “We are working towards having the independence referendum in 2023, we’re working towards it with good intentions, with solid intentions of delivering on that, but I cannot predict future events.”

Asked whether “working towards” simply meant passing the referendum bill rather than holding the referendum itself, Ms Slater said it was about “more than that”.

She said: “It means having a national conversation about what kind of country we want to be and that means working on the prospectus for that.”

Both leaders were asked whether they retained their opposition to Nato despite the war in Ukraine and whether they would back a new white paper that committed Scotland to becoming a Nato member post independence.

Mr Harvie said the 2014 ‘white paper’ model may be disposed of in favour of a prospectus which offered a “range of choices that Scotland would be able to exercise if we voted for independence”, but would be more than a “meaningless, simplistic slogan” such as Brexit’s ‘Take Back Control’.

However, Ms Slater said voters would be told what they would be voting for should they vote yes, but claimed a “national conversation” about the future of the country should happen first.

She said: “Something we have learnt from Brexit is that we don’t want to do what was done then. We want to make sure people do know what they’re voting for and they have an understanding of what becoming independent means and what the opportunities there are.

"Part of that is about responsible, democratic transparency and let’s have that conversation.”

Ms Slater added: “The idea we can’t shift that dial sufficiently to win independence, I think with a good campaign we definitely can, but I think that that’s what’s got the unionists running scared.

"Because I think if they had a good case for the union they would be proud to get it out and campaign for it, but I think that they don’t, so they just say ‘no indyref’, which is not having the courage of their convictions.”

Asked whether he retained his opposition to Nato membership, Mr Harvie said nuclear weapons’ only function is “indiscriminate slaughter” and claimed the nuclear deterrent had failed to “keep the peace”.

He said: “The idea that nuclear weapons keep the peace has been shown to be false.

"The idea that mutually assured destruction by massive power blocs is a safe state of affairs when clearly one of those power blocs is in the control of someone as extraordinarily brutal and compassionless as Vladimir Putin.

"This notion that we have to have our freedom depending on the fear of mutual annihilation has to end. It can never be a safe and stable way for humanity to live.”

Want to hear more from The Scotsman's politics team? Check out the latest episode of our political podcast, The Steamie.

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