The Scottish Government has today published legislation to pave the way for a referendum on independence late next year.
The Referendums (Scotland) Bill has been laid in the Scottish Parliament today and provides a legal framework for the holding of referendums on any matters within Scotland’s control
It will enable a repeat of the 2014 vote on leaving the UK to be staged in a "timely fashion."
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said today she wants this to happen by the end of the current Scottish Parliament term of May 2021 and said this week she wants it next year.
“An independence referendum within this parliamentary term will give Scotland the opportunity to choose to be an independent European nation - rather than have a Brexit future imposed upon us," she said.
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But opponents slammed the proposed Bill as a "waste of space".
The Scottish Government would require a transfer of power from Westminster - in the form of a Section 30 order - for this to take place, but this will be sought when the new Prime Minister is in place.
The Bill is expected to be passed at Holyrood with the help of the pro-independence Greens.
It includes provision for the date, question and referendum period to be set by secondary legislation. The transfer of power would be needed to ensure such a referendum could not be legally challenged, the legislation states..
“Now, more than ever, it is essential that we keep Scotland’s options open so that people have the opportunity to choose a better future," the First Minister said.
“Throughout the Brexit process, Scotland has been treated with contempt by Westminster, and our efforts to find compromise and protect the interests of the people of Scotland, who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, have been ignored.
“We will seek agreement to a transfer of power at an appropriate point to enable an independence referendum that is beyond challenge to be held later in this parliament. It is essential the
UK Government recognises that it would be a democratic outrage if it seeks to block such a referendum – indeed, any such stance would, in my view, prove to be utterly unsustainable.”
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The issue will come under the spotlight of MSPs at Holyrood later today when Ms Sturgeon makes a formal statement to MSPs.
Government business and constitutional relations secretary Michael Russell said: “Although referendums have become an increasingly common feature of UK democracy, it is a long time since the framework governing them was last comprehensively reviewed.
“Introducing a standing framework for referendums is a reasonable thing for any country or Parliament to have and this legislation will put Scotland in the same position as the UK and many other countries.”
But the move was branded a "stunt" by Tory Constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins.
"Only one in five people in Scotland say they want a referendum under Nicola Sturgeon’s absurd timetable," he said.
"People have had enough.
He added: “The Scottish Conservatives will always stand up to oppose Nicola Sturgeon’s independence obsession, and say no to more division and uncertainty. It is time we all moved on
“This latest stunt is all about Nicola Sturgeon pandering to her party, not speaking for the country.
“At a time when we need to focus on the challenges on education, the economy, and public services, this proves that the SNP has become a waste of parliamentary space.”