SNP heavyweights: There is no appetite for a second independence referendum

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Alex Salmond heaped further pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to demand a second independence referendum yesterday as senior figures within the SNP warned her against seeking another vote.

The former first minister called on his successor to seize on the turmoil over Brexit engulfing Westminster by pushing for a second poll, while other leading figures within the party urged caution.

Mr Salmond also pledged to end the “uncivil war” with Ms Sturgeon’s camp that has developed amid the fallout from sexual misconduct allegations against him.

A police investigation is taking place into the allegations made by two women and dating back to when he was first minister.

But Mr Salmond won a legal challenge against the Scottish Government over its handling of the claims.

The Scottish Government is carrying out a review of what happened and Ms Sturgeon has referred herself to independent advisers to consider whether she breached the ministerial code during meetings and phone calls with her predecessor.

Mr Salmond said Ms Sturgeon’s focus should be on the drive to bring about independence.

He said: “Nicola should be concentrating all her energies on the independence agenda where we will never have better circumstances. As far as I am concerned Westminster’s Brexit difficulty should be Scotland’s opportunity.”

Ms Sturgeon is to give an update to the Scottish Parliament on her plans in the coming weeks.

A formal request for a Section 30 order which would give Holyrood the authority to stage a referendum was rejected by the UK government last year, with Prime Minister Theresa may insisting “now is not the time” to revisit the Scottish constitutional issue amid the Brexit uncertainty. It is understood that a further request by the Scottish Government would also be rejected by Westminster.

Writing in the Sunday National newspaper yesterday, Mr Salmond said: “One of our features in the national movement has been our inability to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of our political opponents. We have tended to concentrate on the shape we’re in.

“However, right now the Westminster political establishment is at its weakest point in my lifetime while the national movement is in good heart. There is not likely to be a better time to force the issue.”

However former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars warned there is “no appetite” for a second independence referendum.

He said: “There is no national Yes organisation in place – a prerequisite to success as many Yes activists and voters are not SNP.

“No policy work has been done on the post-Brexit situation and thus we are not in a position to deploy then new policies in that post-Brexit new paradigm that will be needed to convince No voters to vote Yes next time.”

Polls indicate there has been no rise in support for independence among Scots since the last vote in 2014 and Perth and North Perthshire MP Pete Wishart said a vote should be held when it can be won.

He said: “We are already making progress towards that with Brexit as the catalyst. But it will be difficult to secure the conditions to make a referendum happen before the next Holyrood election.”

Alex Bell, a former SNP government adviser also called for a more considered approach.

He said: “The SNP and Yes have to stop seeing independence as a sneaky prize to be won when everyone else is messing up and instead base their campaign on the reality of what Scotland can achieve through an honest understanding of the world.”

Ms Sturgeon had pledged to hold a second referendum in the immediate aftermath of Brexit but “reset” her plans after the SNP suffered heavy losses in the 2017 UK election.

At First Minister’s Questions last week, she said: “Given the catastrophe that Scotland faces in our economy, our society, our living standards, the prospects for the next generation and our reputation in the world, it is essential that the option of independence is open to people in Scotland.

“When people in Scotland have the ability to choose independence, I believe that the country will opt to be an independent one.”

The Scottish Parliament has already voted in favour of a second referendum following the Brexit vote as the SNP combined with the pro-independence Greens.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell has written to Mrs May to urge her to maintain her refusal to grant Holyrood powers for a second independence referendum.

If the authority to hold a second referendum through a Section 30 is rejected, as expected, by the UK government, it has been suggested that the Scottish Government could make this the central issue of the next Holyrood election in 2021, as it seeks to build the case for a independence in the years ahead.
Tory constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins suggested Ms Sturgeon will seek a Section 30 order in the knowledge it will be rejected by in order to “stir up as much grievance and bad feeling as possible”.

Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie urged the SNP to abandon plans for another referendum.

A Scottish Labour source added: “The last thing Scotland needs is more instability and chaos of yet another independence referendum, what our communities need are Labour governments here and in Westminster to end austerity.”

An SNP spokesman said: “With the clock ticking down to Brexit date - and with the Tory government incapable of governing and Labour incapable of effectively opposing - the SNP will continue to focus on standing up for Scotland’s interests in the face of a disastrous Tory-driven Brexit and further austerity.”