Behind the scenes

Nicola Sturgeon’s plan for ‘illegal’ Scottish independence referendum

Critics slam SNP’s ‘deluded’ pledge to hold new vote without consent of Westminster

Nicolas Sturgeon is gearing up to take on the might of Westminster after unveiling plans to hold an advisory referendum on Scottish independence if her party wins a majority in May’s Holyrood elections. 

In a warning shot to Boris Johnson, Sturgeon told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show that the Scottish National Party (SNP) would immediately organise an advisory vote to “seek the authority of the Scottish people” to hold a “legal referendum”.

The vote plan was set out in an 11-point roadmap presented at an internal SNP online assembly yesterday - and will go ahead “regardless of whether Westminster consents to the move”, The Guardian reports.

The SNP will first request from the UK government a section 30 order, which under the Scotland Act 1998 allows Holyrood to pass laws normally reserved to Westminster. 

But if this request is rejected, the Scottish government will pass a bill allowing a “legal referendum” to take place, and will “vigorously oppose” any legal challenge from Westminster, the roadmap document warns.

The strategy was unveiled yesterday by Scottish government's Constitution Secretary Mike Russell, who said: “I firmly believe that Scotland's referendum must be beyond legal challenge to ensure legitimacy and acceptance at home and abroad.” 

However, a constitutional expert told The Telegraph that the SNP’s plan was “deluded” and “pointless”.

Vernon Bogdanor, a former professor of government at Oxford University, argues that “holding such a referendum without Westminster's authority would be ultra vires” - Latin for “beyond the powers” - “because matters connected with the union are reserved”.

“If the UK government didn’t devolve the power, it would be beyond the legal competence of the Scottish Parliament to hold one, and the government could be sued for spending money ultra vires,” he said.

The plan has also met with resistance from Scottish Tories

Douglas Ross, the Conservative Party leader in Scotland, told the Daily Mail that unionists could boycott the vote. “Most Scots will wonder why time, energy and resources are going into pursuing an illegal referendum when we are facing far bigger challenges,” he added.

The results of a new poll for The Sunday Times of more than 1,200 adults in Scotland found that 50% back holding a second referendum on independence within five years, while 43% said that there should not be a second vote. 

Just under half (49%) of the respondents said they would back independence if a second vote were held, with 44% in favour of remaining in the union, and 7% undecided.

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