IndyRef2: Nicola Sturgeon will not rule out non-binding independence vote if prime minister continues to block formal referendum

Convention will declare the sovereignty of the Scottish people in a ‘modern Claim of Right’

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 31 January 2020 11:28
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Nicola Sturgeon says she wants to established new Constitutional Convention to endorse 'modern Claim of Right for Scotland'

Scotland’s first minister has said she will not rule out a consultative referendum on independence, as she laid out plans for a “constitutional convention” to declare the sovereignty of the Scottish people.

Speaking in Edinburgh on Brexit day, Nicola Sturgeon said that she would continue to press prime minister Boris Johnson for a legally binding IndyRef2.

But she said that if the PM continued to refuse, she was ready for the Scottish parliament to stage a non-binding consultative vote to establish the state of opinion north of the border.

Following the Scottish parliament’s backing this week of her government’s commitment to give voters a choice on independence, Ms Sturgeon said she wanted to established a new constitutional convention to endorse a “modern Claim of Right for Scotland”.

The process echoes the drafting of the original Claim of Right document of 1989, which declared the sovereignty of the Scottish people in a key step towards the devolution of powers from London to Edinburgh.

Ms Sturgeon’s initiative came after a YouGov poll found a majority of Scots in favour of independence for the first time since 2015, by a margin of 51 per cent to 49 per cent.

The first minister said: “We have never been stronger ... And independence has never been closer.

“It is our strength that will make it a reality. The strength of our arguments. The strength of our unity and our commitment to the cause. The strength of our values.

“The strength of our vision of an open, progressive, outward-looking Scotland for all who live here, no matter where they come from.”

And she added: “History tells us that change often comes quickly after many years when the obstacles seemed great. In Scotland I believe we are on the cusp of such a moment.”

Ms Sturgeon said that Scotland was being taken out of the EU “against the will of the vast majority of us” and that for many Scots, it would be a moment of “sadness tinged with anger”.

She made clear she believes that Scotland’s future as “a valued member of the European family of nations” is now “only open to us with independence”.

The UK government had shown “no interest at all in finding ways to accommodate our distinctive views and interests” and was turning a “deaf ear” to Scotland’s concerns about the damage Brexit will cause to its prosperity and wellbeing.

Mr Johnson’s refusal to grant a second independence referendum, following the 55-45 vote in favour of the union in 2014, showed Conservatives’ “contempt for democracy in Scotland”, she said.

She said that his approach may make it necessary for the Scottish parliament to call a non-binding consultative referendum as a demonstration of Scottish opinion.

But she acknowledged that such a vote may be ruled illegal by the courts.

She said: “That means it cannot be said definitively that it would not be legal, but equally it cannot be described as being beyond legal doubt.

“If a proposal for a referendum on that basis was brought forward, it would be challenged in court.

“If a court ruled that it was legal, it wouldn’t be a ‘wildcat referendum’ as our opponents like to brand it – it would be within the remit of the Scottish parliament.”

While explicitly declining to rule out a consultative referendum, she said the Scottish government’s focus would instead be on “building and winning the political case for independence” as a means both to secure a public vote and to win it when it is held.

As a first step, she is asking the Electoral Commission to rule on the appropriate wording for an independence referendum, with the proposed question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

The constitutional convention of Scottish MSPs, MPs, outgoing MEPs and council leaders will be called to endorse the Claim of Right stating that it is “for the Scottish Parliament to decide whether and when there should be an independence choice”.

And the Scottish government will publish a series of papers setting out the case for independence.

The SNP will double its campaign budget to support new literature, adverts and films supporting independence.

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