Nicola Sturgeon has fired a warning shot across the bows of party members who are pushing for an independence “Plan B”, warning there are no “shortcuts” to a separate Scottish state as it would not be regarded as legitimate on the international stage.
Just days before her party’s autumn conference, the First Minister has reiterated that a legal referendum, similar to that carried out in 2014, was the only way to independence.
She moved to dismiss claims that the SNP winning a majority of Scottish seats in a general election would be enough for independence to be declared.
SNP rebels are pushing for a fresh debate at the party’s three day conference in Aberdeen about possible “alternative routes” to independence. MP Angus MacNeil and senior councillor Chris McEleny have been trying to raise the issue of a Plan B should Boris Johnson, or any future Prime Minister, refuse to grant a Section 30 Order to allow the Scottish Government to hold a second referendum.
They believe that to counter such an event, the SNP should adopt a position that a pro-independence majority elected at the next election would act as a direct mandate to enter straight into independence negotiations with the UK government.
Their attempts to have it discussed at the party conference have failed, but it is believed that Mr McEleny will use a technical procedure to oppose the conference agenda on Sunday unless it allows for a debate on “Plan B”.
The move has already been condemned by veteran SNP MP Pete Wishart, who declared it a “childish stunt”.
Yesterday Ms Sturgeon again stressed that a referendum, backed by the UK government, was the only legitimate route to independence.
“I’ve campaigned for independence all my life, and if there was an easy or shortcut route I would have taken it by now,” she said. “We have to demonstrate majority support for independence in a process that is legal and legitimate - and crucially not just domestically in the UK, but internationally and in Europe in particular will be accepted, and that is the right way to go.”
She added: “A General Election does give the SNP the opportunity to allow people to demonstrate their support for independence and a referendum
“The SNP could, and has, won a majority of seats in a Westminster referendum on a minority of votes. No matter if I wanted to try and argue we wanted to become independent on that basis, nobody in Europe would listen to me in terms of the legitimacy of that.
“The way to win independence, and I am absolutely confident we will sooner than later, is to clearly demonstrate a majority in Scotland want it - and I think we’re closer to that than ever before.”
Ms Sturgeon has repeatedly said she wants to hold a second referendum on independence next year - but the move has been ruled out by the UK government.
But there is mounting pressure from some SNP activists and MPs, as well as others in the wider independence movement, to adopt a “Plan B” if consent for a referendum is not granted.
There have been calls for an unofficial independence referendum to be held, similar to the disputed one in Catalonia in 2017.
The stance of MacNeil and McEleny, that winning a majority of Scottish seats at Westminster should be enough for independence negotiations to begin, was once the SNP’s official policy.
McEleny and MacNeil submitted a proposal in July to party bosses for the debate but it was turned down by the SNP conference committee which said such a policy change was “too significant” for a single conference debate and would require broader consultation with the membership.
In a second attempt they resubmitted the resolution as an amendment to a motion by Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Early Years Minister Maree Todd marking the achievements of the Scottish Parliament.
The Swinney motion was then pulled after delegates gave it a low ranking. The Plan B debate was also axed.
Cllr McEleny now intends to put down an amendment backing the agenda but on condition it includes a debate on Plan B.
He said: “The constitution of the party allows business to be added so I will propose that members present are allowed a debate on independence Plan B. It’s a plan that will ensure that if the UK government attempts to silence Scotland then we will make sure our democratic voice is heard. I think it’s fitting then to put to SNP members if this is a debate they want at their conference.”