Nicola Sturgeon has warned that the UK will be weakened on the world stage if her demands for another independence referendum are refused, ahead of her unveiling her route map for getting around the Government’s legal blockade.
The First Minister argued that Britain would be “in no position to lecture any other country about the need to respect democratic norms” if her request for a re-run of the 2014 vote was rejected.
Despite opinion polls showing that a clear majority of Scots oppose her timetable for another referendum in October next year, she said most MSPs elected in last year’s Holyrood election supported separation “and it is the people’s will which must prevail”.
Ms Sturgeon said this was an “inconvenient truth for our political opponents”, ahead of a statement at Holyrood on Tuesday afternoon in which she will outline her plans for another independence vote.
Boris Johnson has repeatedly made clear that he will refuse any formal request from Ms Sturgeon for a Section 30 order, the legislative device used to transfer the powers for the 2014 referendum.
With the country emerging from a pandemic into a cost of living crisis, the Prime Minister has argued that “now is not the time” for another separation vote.
Referendum on a referendum
Although constitutional affairs are reserved to Westminster, there has been widespread speculation that Ms Sturgeon will attempt to get around the UK Government’s veto by holding an “advisory” vote on Scottish separation.
An alternative being mooted among SNP figures is a so-called referendum on a referendum, asking the Scottish people whether Holyrood rather than Westminster should have the power to call future separation votes.
But The Telegraph understands that the UK Government is highly sceptical that Ms Sturgeon has managed to come up with any legal way of staging her own referendum if Boris Johnson refuses to relent.
Senior sources said “we would have heard about it long before now” if this could happen and any such vote would be “meaningless” anyway without the agreement of the UK Government.
Even if she won the argument over legality in the Supreme Court, they said UK ministers would not recognise the result of a “wildcat” referendum, which the Unionist parties would be expected to boycott.
The Tories and Labour argued that Ms Sturgeon’s new route map is a “shameless” attempt to divert attention from the “sex pest scandal” that has enveloped the SNP’s Westminster group.
Patrick Grady, the Glasgow North MP, suspended his party membership at the weekend after the Metropolitan Police confirmed it was investigating allegations of sexual assault.
The First Minister on Monday said that Ian Blackford, the party’s Westminster leader, still had her backing despite urging the party’s other MPs to rally around Grady. She was also forced to deny that the scandal was overshadowing her independence announcement.
The SNP failed to win a majority in last year’s Holyrood election, prompting Ms Sturgeon to form a coalition with the pro-separation Scottish Greens, but she argued “that democratic will must be respected” with another referendum.
She said: “Continued attempts to block that democratic will only weaken the UK Government’s standing, here and internationally.
“Bluntly, the UK Government is in no position to lecture any other country about the need to respect democratic norms if it is intent on trying to thwart democracy at home.”
She said that Westminster rule “cannot be based on anything other than a consented, voluntary partnership”.
‘Game of cat and mouse’
Ms Sturgeon would only be permitted to table a Referendum Bill at Holyrood if Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain, Scotland’s most senior law officer, gave her approval that it was within Holyrood’s powers.
If Ms Bain gave the green light, the legislation would be expected to pass as SNP and Green MSPs together form a pro-independence majority in the Holyrood chamber.
But the Advocate General for Scotland, Boris Johnson’s most senior advisor on Scots law, would have four weeks to challenge its competence in the Supreme Court and most legal experts expect the UK Government to emerge victorious.
As a last resort, Sir John Curtice, the country’s leading polling expert, said the UK Government could also pass legislation blocking another separation vote.
He said: “That is part of the game of cat and mouse. This is probably going to the next UK general election, and whether or not we have a hung parliament in which the SNP hold the balance of power, in which case all bets are off.”
Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, said: “It is no surprise that Nicola Sturgeon is ramping up her efforts to sow division and strife when we see the chaos in her party and the failures of her Government.
“She says to listen to the people of Scotland – but she refuses to herself, forging ahead with an unwanted referendum and ignoring people’s desperate cries for help with the cost-of-living crisis.”
Murdo Fraser, a senior Scottish Tory MSP, tweeted: