Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, today (13th March 2017) confirmed that she will seek permission from the Scottish Parliament and UK Government to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence.
Sturgeon announced this morning that she will ask the Scottish Parliament’s permission to request a Section 30 order from Westminster next week. The Section 30 order is the legislation needed to allow a legally-binding referendum on independence to be held by the Scottish Government.
The First Minister indicated that the new independence referendum, commonly referred to as ‘IndyRef2’, would likely be held between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of 2019.
The last referendum on Scottish independence was held on 18th September 2014, with Scots voting against independence by 55% to 45%.
The referendum was described at the time as a ‘once in a generation’ event, but the SNP’s manifesto for the 2016 Scottish elections stated that a ‘material change’ in circumstances – specifically citing Brexit as an example – could result in another referendum. The SNP fell just short of a majority but still formed a minority government in May 2016.
Then, less than two months later, the UK voted Leave in the EU referendum while Scots voted Remain by 62% to 38%. The First Minister described this as a ‘democratic deficit’ and stated that Scotland was being ‘dragged out of the EU against its will’.
Speculation that the Scottish Government would pursue a second independence referendum has been mounting since the Brexit vote, and today the First Minister confirmed that she plans to hold IndyRef2 before the UK finalises its exit from the EU.
The Prime Minister, Theresa May, stated
“As we negotiate to leave the European Union I want to negotiate an agreement that is going to work for the whole of the United Kingdom and that includes the Scottish people. That’s why we’ve been working closely with the devolved administrations, we’ve been listening to their proposals and recognising the many areas of common ground that we have, such as protecting workers’ rights and our security from crime and terrorism.
“The tunnel vision that the SNP has shown today is deeply regrettable. It sets Scotland on a course for more uncertainty and division, creating huge uncertainty. And this is at a time when the evidence is that the Scottish people, the majority of the Scottish people, do not want a second independence referendum.
“So instead of playing politics with the future of our country, the Scottish Government should focus on delivering good government and public services for the people of Scotland. Politics is not a game.”
The Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, Ruth Davidson, described Ms. Sturgeon’s statement as “utterly irresponsible” and said that she had “given up acting as first minister for all of Scotland”. She added that the Scottish Conservatives will “vote against the Section 30 order”
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said her MSPs will also oppose plans for IndyRef2, stating:
“Scotland is already divided enough we do not want to be divided again, but that is exactly what another independence referendum would do.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said that the SNP are “determined to contrive a way to ignore their promise that 2014 was ‘once in a generation’.”
Significantly, Patrick Harvie – the co-convener of the Scottish Green Party – confirmed the Greens would vote in favour of seeking a Section 30 order. He stated:
“Scotland’s votes and our voice have been ignored by a Tory government at Westminster which we did not vote for and a feeble Labour opposition.
“The people of Scotland deserve a choice between Hard Brexit Britain and putting our own future in our own hands”.
Support for independence appears to fluctuate slightly from poll to poll, but while most show a slim majority still favouring the union, it is widely considered too close to call.
While the collapse in oil prices have added further uncertainty to the economic case for independence, with Scotland’s economy growing more slowly that the rest of the UK, the Scottish Government is banking on a ‘hard Brexit’ undermining Scottish support for the Union and convincing more voters to back independence.
- In order to trigger a new independence referendum, the Scottish Government must first gain the support of a majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament to request a Section 30 order from the UK Government. With the support of the Scottish Greens it is highly likely that Ms Sturgeon will achieve this next week.
- The First Minister could then request a Section 30 order from the UK Government to hold a legally binding referendum. This would need to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. Early indications suggest that while the Prime Minister may not block such a request, she may look to delay any referendum until after the UK’s exit from the EU, contrary to the Scottish Government’s planned timetable.
- If the Section 30 order request was to be approved, the Scottish Government could then enter negotiations with the UK Government to set the date and procedures of the referendum.
- The Scottish Parliament would then debate the relevant details – including the question, the exact timing and the franchise – as part of a new Referendum Bill.
- Only once such a Bill has passed could the details of IndyRef2 be confirmed.