The Scottish Government is poised to set out plans for a second independence referendum, along with citizens’ assemblies to help shape future constitutional change, within days of Theresa May’s departure as Tory leader.
Constitutional relations secretary Michael Russell is to update MSPs at Holyrood, possibly as early as this week, as the SNP Government prepares to push forward with legislation for another vote on leaving the UK.
It lays down a marker to prospective candidates for the Tory leadership that Scotland will be at the top of their inbox.
Senior SNP figures also warned the prospect of bookies’ favourite Boris Johnson taking over in Downing Street and embarking on a “hard Brexit” will see support for Scottish independence soar.
Cross-border friction over demands for a repeat of the 2014 referendum will step up a gear with the appointment of May’s successor in mid-July after a fast-track leadership contest was unveiled last week.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is to seek a section 30 order, which would give Holyrood the legal authority to stage a second referendum, from the new occupant of Downing Street after the legislation for a referendum has begun its Parliamentary process at Holyrood.
It is expected to be on the statute book by the end of the year. May has always ruled out a section 30 order and Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson has already warned any prospective UK leader must take a strong stand on Scotland’s place in the UK and rule out a second referendum.
The growing expectation is that new leader could be Johnson, the former foreign secretary, who has indicated he could be ready to pursue a no-deal Brexit, prompting fears over the impact on Scotland’s economy and population growth.
SNP deputy Westminster leader Kirsty Blackman said: “The prospect of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister is utterly horrifying to people across Scotland, as he panders to calls from extreme Brexiteers to deliver a deeply damaging no-deal Brexit.
“With Johnson the clear favourite to take over at No 10, it is absolutely no surprise that more and more people believe Scotland’s future should be as an independent country in the EU.
“And if he does actually make it to Downing Street, that will simply send support for independence soaring even higher.
“A no-deal Brexit simply isn’t an option – it’s time to end this Westminster impasse and put the question back to the people with the option to remain on the ballot paper.”
Plans to introduce Irish-style citizens’ assemblies in Scotland will also be set out by Russell in an update to MSPs.
These would adopt a more collegiate approach to issues which “sharply divide” opinion and were unveiled by Sturgeon last month as she set out plans for a Holyrood Bill to enable a second referendum.
Among the issues they will look at are the work required to give Scots the detail needed to make “informed choices about the future of the country”.
Former SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson insisted many Scots No voters from 2014 were already turning to independence.
He branded Johnson an “old Etonian Bullingdon club buffoon” and warned the rest of the world was “watching agog” at the prospect of him taking over as Prime Minister.
“In Scotland we are now facing Boris Johnson as prime minister and hard Brexit despite not voting for either,” he wrote.
“It is the clearest, most extreme example of a democratic deficit imaginable.
“This cannot be as good as it gets. The UK political system is broken and failing the people badly.
“Massive pennies are dropping for many people who voted No in the 2014 independence referendum.
“What was previously unimaginable for them is now absolutely necessary.”
But the prospect of Johnson or another hardline Brexiteer resulting in a huge spike in support for independence was played down by polling expert Sir John Curtice from the University of Strathclyde.
“What we know about Boris is that he’s capable of reaching parts that most Tory leaders can’t reach,” Curtice said.
“If he can win voters in inner London, why can’t he win voters in Scotland?
“The more serious point is what he does as leader.
“I think what would be more relevant would be if a Tory leader was to pursue no-deal, and that goes pear-shaped, then that might have an impact in Scotland.
“But basically, because of the state of the House of Commons, that ain’t going to happen.
“Thereafter, my argument would be it depends how he performs as prime minister and what he does and all the rest of it.
“In the meantime, Boris may actually be the one person who’s capable of winning some votes back and might help the Tories in Scotland.”