SNP minister in talks with People's Vote campaign

Michael Russell met with Peoples Vote campaigners
Michael Russell met with Peoples Vote campaigners
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The Scottish Government has held "constructive talks" with the official campaign for a referendum on the final Brexit deal, it has emerged.

Holyrood Brexit minister Michael Russell described the meeting with the People's Vote campaign today as a "step forward" but warned that another referendum must guarantee Scotland's voice is heard. The UK-wide "leave" vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum outweighed out the "remain" position north of the border.

However, the SNP administration in Scotland was accused of demanding unionist opponents back independence before throwing its weight behind a second Brexit referendum.

Read more: Mike Russell raises concerns over possibility of No deal Brexit
Mr Russell hit back at the "back us or else" approach of pro-union parties.

He added: "Fortunately there are more reasonable voices who are arguing for this.

"For example I had very constructive discussions with Hugo Dixon from the People's Vote which was an interesting and informative step forward.

"That is the type of constructive engagement I would commend."

Mr Russell told MSPs the SNP would not block another public vote on Brexit.

"The Scottish Government is not opposed to a second referendum on the final negotiated deal if that's the will of the UK Parliament," he added.

"However, we are concerned that those in favour of such a vote have not demonstrated how they would address the serious democratic challenge that if the people of Scotland voted clearly and decisively to remain within the "European Union as they did in the 2016 referendum, they would still not face being removed from the EU against their will.

"As the First Minister said in this chamber last week if the Scottish Government is to get enthusiastically behind the campaign for another EU vote surely it is not unreasonable to ask for a guarantee that Scotland would not find itself in the same position all over again if it votes to remain within the EU."

Read more: Brexit will build majority support for Scottish independence
Two-thirds of Scots voted remain in the 2016 Brexit vote, but the weight of votes south of the border swung the outcome in favour of Leave.

But Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie accused the SNP minister of using the issue to secure concessions on a second independence referendum. This could see the Nationalist administration at Holyrood only throwing its weight fully behind a second Brexit vote if there is a guarantee that Scotland would be allowed to stage a second independence referendum were a"remain" vote north of the border again outweighed by "leave" UK-wide.

It could also mean that each of the devolved home nations are allowed a "veto" on Brexit if the deal proves damaging.

"The problem for the cabinet secretary is that time is running out," Mr Rennie said.

"To be brutal what he wants is he wants me to back independence if he backs a Peoples' Vote on Brexit.

"That's what he's trying to get to - and that's not going to happen.

"So the Cabinet Secretary has a decision to make - will he sit on the sidelines or will he get behind the best chance of stopping Brexit which is a peoples' vote?

"Stop hiding behind the talks and do the right thing."