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Scottish independence referendum to go ahead when Covid crisis ‘stable,’ says SNP

Scottish government aims to suppress virus by the end of 2021 then push on with indyref2, says deputy first minister

Adam Forrest
Monday 10 May 2021 12:32 BST
Related video: ‘Absurd’ for the UK government to try to block independence referendum, says Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon’s government will put legislation for another referendum on Scottish independence once the coronavirus is suppressed and “stable”, Scotland’s deputy first minister has said.

The SNP’s John Swinney said it was the Scottish government’s “aspiration” for the virus to be consistently suppressed by the end of 2021, before pushing on with plans for another vote on separation.

Ms Sturgeon said on Sunday she “wouldn’t rule out” bringing her indyref2 legislation in the Scottish parliament early next year. She wants the referendum ballot to be held by the end of 2023.

Mr Swinney said on Monday the party would be able to consider “the whole question of the timing” once the Covid crisis is over.

Asked by the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland how the end of the crisis would be determined, Mr Swinney said it would be when Covid cases were consistently suppressed, and vaccine and testing systems were operating effectively.

“We judge it by a combination of things – the actions that we’ve got to take to suppress the prevalence of the virus, and to make sure that we are in a stable position,” said the MSP. “That we’ve got the necessary infrastructure in place to ensure that the virus is suppressed.”

Scotland returned a small-but-increased majority of pro-independence MSPs at last week’s Holyrood elections, with 64 SNP representatives and eight from the Scottish Greens.

The SNP manifesto said another vote on independence should be held before the end of 2023, if the Covid crisis was over.

Ms Sturgeon told Boris Johnson on Sunday that another referendum was a matter of “when, not if” after her party’s election victory. But she will be wary of pushing for a vote on independence too quickly.

A new Survation poll, carried out for the Scotland in Union organisation, found that only 12 per cent of Scots believe independence is a priority issue for the new SNP government. It also found only 37 per cent of Scots want a referendum before the end of 2023.

John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon (PA)

Any attempt to pass an independence referendum bill in the Scottish parliament would likely spark a legal challenge from Boris Johnson’s government and end up in the Supreme Court.

The 2014 independence referendum was agreed when the UK government granted a section 30 order (a provision in the Scotland Act of 1998) so the Scottish government could legally stage a vote on separation.

The SNP’s deputy leader Keith Brown said on Monday the UK government should agree to the principal of another referendum now, and the timings could be sorted out later.

He also claimed the UK government would not dare attempt to block any indyref2 legislation passed by the Scottish parliament by taking the matter to the Supreme Court.

Mr Brown told the Today programme: “There are people in the Conservative party, whether in Edinburgh or Westminster, that know perfectly well it’s going to happen. Let’s agree it going to happen at the appropriate time.”

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said on Sunday that Ms Sturgeon and her team cannot expect an independence referendum, claiming that election results did not demonstrate that Scots were “agitating” for one.

He dodged questions on whether the UK government would try to block referendum legislation in court. “We’re not even going there at the moment.”

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