Scottish independence campaigners aim to thrive on Brexit turmoil

Independence campaigners are mobilising as they seek to 'seize the opportunity' presented by the Brexit turmoil engulfing UK politics, leading figures among pro-nationalist groups have said.

Independence supporters march in Glasgow in May. Picture: Andy Buchanan/Getty

They say Nicola Sturgeon will “absolutely get a mandate” to stage a second referendum if she puts it to the people at the next Holyrood election, as Westminster continues to withold authority.

But the First Minister has been warned she must adopt a radical approach to persuade Scots that a Yes vote will avert the looming “cliff edge” of Brexit and transform the country’s fortunes.

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It has prompted claims from pro-Union groups that nationalists will “never stop” campaigning for independence despite no shift in the polls towards a majority for independence.

Sturgeon has come under fresh pressure to set out her timetable for a second referendum after publication of the final EU Withdrawal Deal was met with derision and appears likely to be rejected in the Commons.

“Across the board in the Yes movement there is a real appetite to seize this moment of opportunity,” said Green MSP Ross Greer, who was also communities co-ordinator with the official Yes Scotland group during the last campaign.

“A UK state that is in complete crisis, that is bogged down in its own contradictions, is causing this damage to Scotland and the UK as a whole in such a visible public way.”

He said “huge numbers” of people were getting involved in such things as marches outwith the formal party political campaigns.

“The opportunity we have to really give the independence vision a shot in the arm is to give a vision of how things can be better – or how do we mitigate the damage of this bad decision, but present a vision for society that says this doesn’t have to be Scotland’s long-term future.”

The Scottish Independence Convention, an umbrella body of 20 pro-independence groups recently announced plans to take on two full-time employees as part of a drive get support for a Yes vote above 50 per cent. It came after a fundraising drive secured more than £90,000.

Vice-convener Dave Thompson, who also heads up Christians for Independence, said: “We need to be prepared. That’s why we’re setting up the company and employing staff and getting ourselves organised. We need to be ready for whenever that campaign happens. At the moment, it’s very difficult to know when that’s going to be.

“We’re ready any time. We could go very quickly, but if it’s a bit further down the line. we’re ready for that as well.”

Margaret Young, national co-ordinator with Women for Independence, said local groups had been forming in recent months even without any particular promotional activity.

“Throughout 2018 we’ve had about one new group a month forming,” she added.

The roadblock facing the SNP at Holyrood as it seeks to hold another vote is the fact that Westminster has control over the constitution and Theresa May has refused to grant the “section 30” order which would pave the way for a second vote. The First Minister has ruled out a Catalonia-style vote without legal backing and indicated last week that she may put the referendum to the people by making it the centrepiece of the Holyrood election in 2021. If a pro-independence majority was returned, such as the current SNP-Greens alliance at Holyrood, it would be seen as an irrefutable mandate.

Greer added: “In those circumstances I think you absolutely can get a mandate to win another referendum and in that situation any continued opposition from the UK government would just be completely unsustainable.”

The last independence campaign initially floundered, Greer said, when it sought to allay voters fears’ of leaving the UK with the message change would “safe” and minimal.

“The public know independence is a massively radical step,” he added.

“We need to justify why that radical step is necessary and will result in better things. We need a compelling message from the start.”

But pro-Union campaigners insist there is no appetite for independence among most Scots as the post-Brexit chaos ensues.

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “This is a stark reminder that nationalist groups will never stop campaigning for a divisive and unnecessary second independence referendum.

“We know from polls that the majority of people in Scotland want to remain in the UK.

“But there must be absolutely no complacency. The SNP and its allies are weaponising Brexit in the hope of boosting support for leaving the UK.”