SNP MSPs split over support for People’s Vote on Brexit

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Holyrood became the first UK parliament to back a People’s Vote last night when a majority of MSPs supported a referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal.

MSPs voted 66 to 28 in favour of another Brexit referendum during a parliamentary vote that also exposed divisions within the parties over EU withdrawal.

A majority of MSPs back a referendum on the terms of Brexit.  (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

A majority of MSPs back a referendum on the terms of Brexit. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Campaigners for a People’s Vote described Holyrood’s support as “momentous” and expressed hope that it would persuade Westminster MPs to follow suit.

Holyrood was asked to express its view on the issue after the Liberal Democrats lodged an amendment calling for “unequivocal support for a public vote on the final terms of the Brexit deal” during a debate on the threat of EU withdrawal to scientific research.

The vast majority of SNP MSPs joined the Lib Dems, Greens and two Labour rebels to support the People’s Vote.

But the SNP MSPs Kenny Gibson and Linda Fabiani declined to back another Brexit poll, despite Nicola Sturgeon declaring her support for a People’s Vote recently.

They were among the 21 abstentions and were joined by the former SNP MSP Mark Mcdonald, who now stands as an independent having resigned from the party following an investigation into his conduct.

The SNP MSP Alex Neil, who has admitted to voting for Brexit, did not cast a vote.

Most Labour MSPs abstained apart from former Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale and shadow justice secretary Daniel Johnson, who both defied the party whip to support the vote. The Scottish Conservatives all voted against it.

Although merely a symbolic ballot, those fighting for a People’s Vote hope that Holyrood’s position will persuade Labour MPs to support it.

They also hope that it will harden SNP support for another vote at Westminster, where there is not yet enough support across the parties to back one.

SNP splits over the issue emerged last week when the long-serving MP Pete Wishart said he thought a second Brexit poll would create an unhelpful precedent for a second Scottish independence referendum.

The Perth and North Perthshire MP argued that a People’s Vote would legitimise Unionist arguments that there should be a vote on the terms of Scottish independence in the event of a Yes vote in favour of leaving the UK.

Last night Mr Wishart’s SNP colleague Angus McNeil MP tweeted: “The People’s vote is going nowhere. The Scots (sic) Parliament will be fully ignored by Westminster, which in turn does not have the numbers for a People’s vote. Scotland must move to the next stage of indyref2.”

Tavish Scott, the Lib Dem MSP who tabled the amendment, said: “This is a momentous vote. The Scottish Parliament is the first in the UK to back a People’s Vote. It won’t be the last. This will only get bigger.

“MSPs and MPs who back the People’s Vote are fast forming the biggest and most cohesive bloc in British politics. Every day, more and more people are coming to the conclusion that the public should have their say on the final Brexit deal.”

His Lib Dem colleague Alistair Carmichael added: “The Scottish Parliament giving its unequivocal support to a People’s Vote is an important step in the UK-wide campaign for a vote on the deal.

“Labour must now follow their London Mayor Sadiq Khan and other leading Labour figures in giving people a say on the final deal, including the option of an exit from Brexit.”

Ms Dugdale, who has been a vociferous campaigner for a People’s Vote, said it would be a “democratic outrage” if voters were denied a chance to vote on the terms of the deal. “This is the first time in my seven years as an MSP that I have broken the Labour whip, and I took no pleasure in doing so.

“But this was the right thing to do for my constituents in Edinburgh and the Lothians, who I will always put first. Many of them will suffer considerably if we leave the EU without permanent membership of the single market and the customs union.
“I have been a long-standing supporter of a People’s Vote and I believe it would be a democratic outrage if the people of the UK are not given the chance to stop Brexit.

“The Scottish Parliament has sent out a strong message and I urge the UK government to listen.”

Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell accused the Lib Dems of having a “somewhat obsessive wish to hold another referendum”.

“We believe that this matter has already been settled and that the best Brexit deal will now be secured by ensuring co-operation across all the parties with everyone doing what they can to support the prime minister as she seeks to build a consensus,” he added.