In Depth

What next for Scottish independence?

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon says indyref2 is ‘democratic right’

Tory minister Michael Gove has struck a blow against the Scottish National Party by “absolutely” ruling out allowing a Scottish independence referendum.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has already called for “indyref2” following her party’s general election success, and plans to present Prime Minister Boris Johnson with a “detailed democratic case for the transfer of power” to Scotland.

But in an interview with Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Gove insisted: “We had the referendum on whether or not Scotland should be separate from the United Kingdom in 2014, we were told that that referendum would settle the question for a generation. We are not going to have an independence referendum on Scotland.”

Scottish voters opted to remain in the UK by 55% to 45% in the referendum five years ago.

What has the SNP said?

Sturgeon says her party’s big general election win - which saw the SNP take 48 of Scotland’s 59 seats - is a mandate for a new independence referendum.

In a victory speech in Edinburgh on Friday, she insisted: “This isn’t about asking Boris Johnson or any other Westminster politician for permission. This is instead an assertion of the democratic right of the people of Scotland to determine our own future.”

Expanding on that argument on Sunday, Sturgeon said that “Scotland cannot be imprisoned in the union against its will” and that denying Scots another vote would be a “perversion and subversion of democracy”.

“The will of the Scottish people cannot be ignored, that is just the simple fact of the matter,” she told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show. “If the United Kingdom is to continue, it can only be by consent and if Boris Johnson is confident in the case for the union he should be confident enough to make that case and allow people to decide.”

A refusal by Johnson to allow the vote would not be “the end of the matter”, she added.

SNP MP Angus MacNeil has suggested a “plan B” in which all of his party’s MPs in Scotland to resign their seats, and contest them on the basis that they support independence.

“There would be 48 by-elections, and at 48 ­by-elections you would come back with a direct ­electoral mandate for ­independence,” MacNeil told the Glasgow-based Daily Record.

According to i news, the leader of Scottish Labour, Richard Leonard, is also considering backing a Scottish independence referendum, amid growing pressure for his party to changes its stance on the issue. 

What has Westminster said?

Johnson was clear throughout the general election campaign that he would not approve a request for another Scottish independence referendum, and the PM is even less likely to back down after winning his huge landslide.

Responding to Sturgeon’s victory speech, a Downing Street spokesperson said Johnson had reiterated “his unwavering commitment to strengthening the union”.

“The prime minister made clear how he remained opposed to a second independence referendum, standing with the majority of people in Scotland who do not want to return to division and uncertainty. He added how the result of the 2014 referendum was decisive and should be respected,” the spokesperson continued.

Hammering home that message, Gove told Sky News’ Ridge that he could “absolutely" guarantee with “no ifs, no buts”  that the Government would never grant a second independence referendum.

“In this general election we have just seen what happens when politicians try to overturn a referendum result, and in the same way we should respect the referendum result of 2014,” he said.

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What will happen?

According to the Institute for Government think-tank, existing legislation is “widely interpreted to mean that any referendum relating to Scottish independence would require Westminster approval”.

“However, the matter has never been tested in court, so there remains some uncertainty about whether Holyrood could hold an advisory referendum without consent,” says the institute.

In March 2017, Sturgeon formally requested the consent of Westminster to hold another referendum, which then-PM Theresa May declined, arguing that “now is not the time”.

And despite the renewed push now by the SNP, without a transfer of power through a “section 30 order” approving a referendum, a second independence vote would almost certainly be blocked again in the UK’s courts.

As Spiked says, “mandate or not, the SNP has no obvious path to independence at the moment... everyone agrees that only the UK government can actually grant independence.”

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