In ministerial statement on the Referendums Bill, Michael Russell points to Brexit, the Tory leadership contest and the European elections as justifications for the new legislation
- New Referendums Bill contains no specific plans for a referendum on independence, but lays the groundwork for how such a vote could take place with secondary legislation
- The Scottish Government will seek to protect the franchise of EU citizens, 16 and 17 year olds and voters of any nationality resident in Scotland in any future referendum
- Tory MSP Adam Tompkins argues that the bill will put power over future referendums in the hands of Scottish ministers, rather than the Scottish Parliament
FIRST MINISTER Nicola Sturgeon has warned the UK Government that any attempt to block a second independence referendum would result in “democratic outrage”.
Speaking ahead of the publication by the Scottish Government of legislation setting the stage for a future vote on independence, Sturgeon said: “It is essential the UK Government recognises that it would be a democratic outrage if it seeks to block such a referendum – indeed, any such stance would, in my view, prove to be utterly unsustainable.”
In a ministerial statement to the Scottish Parliament this afternoon [29 May], Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell emphasised the necessity of the Referendums (Scotland) Bill – which was put to Holyrood last night and released today – against the backdrop of Brexit, the Tory leadership contest and the SNP’s overwhelming victory in the European elections, in which it secured 38 per cent of the vote and three of Scotland’s six MEPs.
Reiterating Sturgeon’s goal of holding a second independence referendum within the current Scottish parliamentary term, Russell further revealed that such plans could be fast-tracked, saying: “It is the intention of the Government to offer the people of Scotland a choice on independence later in the term of this Parliament.
“Of course, should circumstances change, we would have the option of seeking Parliament’s agreement to proceed at an accelerated timetable.”
The new framework bill, which is virtually assured passage due to Holyrood’s pro-independence majority, does not contain specific plans for a referendum on independence, which remains a reserved matter. The question put by any future referendum, as well as the date and campaign period, would all theoretically be specified by secondary legislation. This has been interpreted by some commentators as an effort to assure that the bill falls within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.
“Should circumstances change, we would have the option of seeking Parliament’s agreement to proceed at an accelerated timetable.” Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell
Nicola Sturgeon, who announced her plans to seek another vote on Scotland’s independence before 2021 last month, and has since specified that she envisages the referendum taking place in the second half of 2020, commented upon the bill’s publication: “Now, more than ever, it is essential that we keep Scotland’s options open so that people have the opportunity to choose a better future.
“Throughout the Brexit process, Scotland has been treated with contempt by Westminster, and our efforts to find compromise and protect the interests of the people of Scotland, who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, have been ignored.”
In his statement this afternoon, Russell reiterated the Scottish Government’s opposition to Brexit in any form, citing the European election results as the latest indication of Scotland’s majority view in favour of European Union membership.
Russell said: “The Tories are heading for a no-deal Brexit, and some positively welcome that disastrous direction of travel. A Boris Johnson premiership is no longer a bad joke – it is a frightening possibility.
“Substitute Raab or Leadsom or Gove or Hancock or any of the others for Johnson and the situation is no better. Most are heading with pleasure to the cliff-edge. But Scotland must not be forced against our will to go with them.”
Regarding the details of any future referendum secured via today’s legislation, Russell also confirmed that they would observe Scotland’s current franchise arrangement, in which all EU citizens and 16 and 17 year olds can vote. Russell further committed to seeking the vote for those of any nationality living in Scotland.
Russell also argued that the SNP’s 2016 election manifesto commitment to seeking another independence referendum in the case of “a material change of circumstances” provided a mandate for a future vote, saying: “That is what people voted for when they voted the SNP into government.
“And if a new Tory prime minister attempts a no-deal Brexit, whilst we will do everything possible to stop it, and everything we can to mitigate it, it will yet be further proof that the conditions set out in our manifesto in April 2016 have been met full and there will be an even greater urgency to give Scotland a choice of a different future.”
Responding to Russell’s statement, the Scottish Conservatives’ constitution spokesperson Adam Tompkins warned of the amount of power the bill would grant Scottish ministers, arguing: “It’s not about the democracy of letting people decide in a lawful referendum – it’s about the diktat of an independence-obsessed first minister.”
“We should not ask Scotland to face the threat of a chaotic Brexit and a hard-right Prime Minister without the power to make our own choices about our own future.” Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie
Tompkins went on to claim that “in reality, this is Nicola Sturgeon laying the ground for a ‘wildcat’ second referendum on independence.
“Under this bill, SNP ministers would have the power to set any referendum question, at any time, on any matter of their choosing. It’s a power grab on an industrial scale.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard – who has faced severe criticism from figures within the party such as the recently resigned MSP Neil Findlay over the party’s constitutional rhetoric since Labour’s wipeout in the European elections – echoed his previous statements on any future independence referendum, accusing the Scottish Government of “seeking to advance the cause of the break-up of the United Kingdom” with its new legislation.
Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie MSP welcomed the bill, while acknowledging the objections of unionists in the chamber, saying: “Those who oppose independence should at least have the willingness to come forward with positive alternatives.
“The status quo is broken and we should not ask Scotland to face the threat of a chaotic Brexit and a hard-right Prime Minister without the power to make our own choices about our own future.”
Picture courtesy of Scottish Parliament TV