John Swinney: Independence referendum within five years is ‘realistic’ if SNP wins

The First Minister said a second referendum is ‘absolutely what should happen’

John Swinney has insisted another independence referendum within five years is a “realistic timescale” if the SNP wins a majority of seats in Scotland at the general election.

The First Minister and SNP leader said negotiations must be triggered and a referendum was the “best and the most reliable” route forward. It came as he denied the constitution had been downplayed by the SNP as it seeks to win votes during the election campaign.

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A new poll shows the SNP is neck-and-neck with Labour in Scotland, with both parties on 36 per cent of the vote.

John Swinney during a visit to Asda Chesser supermarket in Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA WireJohn Swinney during a visit to Asda Chesser supermarket in Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
John Swinney during a visit to Asda Chesser supermarket in Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s Westminster leader, told ITV independence was “on the ballot paper”. Asked if Scotland would be independent in five years’ time if his party wins a majority of seats, he said: “I would certainly believe so.”

Mr Swinney was asked about the comments by The Scotsman during a campaign visit on Wednesday to Asda Chesser Supercentre in Edinburgh, where he was campaigning with Joanna Cherry, the candidate for Edinburgh South West.

He said: “Our manifesto position is that if the SNP wins a majority of seats in this election, that must trigger negotiations with the UK about Scotland becoming an independent country, and I think the best and the most reliable way to make that happen is by a democratic referendum in which everybody can chose on that question the future of Scotland.”

Pushed on whether this could happen within five years, he said: “Yes, I think that’s absolutely what should happen, yes, and that’s a realistic timescale if people vote for us in sufficient numbers to demonstrate that the mandate the Scottish Parliament has – which is very clear that there should be a referendum on independence – can be taken forward as a consequence of this election.”

He later denied the SNP had downplayed independence as an issue during the campaign. "What I’ve been doing throughout this election campaign is relating independence to the principle concerns that people have in Scotland,” he said.

Mr Swinney said these included the cost-of-living crisis, Brexit and austerity, adding: “My answer to all of that is independence.”

He said: “What I’ve done so far in the election campaign is essentially connect the concerns of members of the public to independence, so that independence is not viewed as an abstract concept, but as a relevant concept to addressing the difficulties that I openly recognise people are feeling in society.”

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Asked if a vote for the SNP was a vote for a referendum in the next five years, Mr Swinney said: “That’s what I think should happen. That would be the best thing to happen, yes.”

Labour has repeatedly ruled out another independence referendum if the party wins power at Westminster. Holyrood cannot hold one unilaterally.

Ms Cherry, who won Edinburgh South West with a majority of 11,982 in 2019, was previously an outspoken critic of Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership of the SNP, particular in relation to transgender issues and women’s right.

Mr Swinney said he was “delighted to be able to encourage people to vote for Joanna Cherry, as I encourage people to vote SNP in every constituency in the country”.

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