Kwasi Kwarteng says it's 'up to the Scottish people' whether to stage second independence referendum

‘Up to Scottish people’ whether second independence referendum is held, Cabinet minister says

Comment clashes with Boris Johnson’s expected refusal to grant the poll – even if SNP triumphs in May’s Holyrood elections

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 02 March 2021 11:54

It is “up to the Scottish people” whether to stage a second independence referendum, a Cabinet minister says – despite Boris Johnson suggesting he would block it.

The prime minister is expected to infuriate many Scots by refusing to grant the poll – even if the SNP triumphs in May’s Holyrood elections – after saying it should be many decades away.

On a visit last month, Mr Johnson branded so-called Indyref2 “completely irrelevant to the concerns of most people”, who instead wanted politicians to “beat this pandemic”.

But Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, has now undermined that tough stance, saying: “It’s up to the Scottish people to decide when and whether they want a referendum.”

The comments will be a boon to Nicola Sturgeon, as she battles to save her career against Alex Salmond’s explosive allegations of a cover-up of the investigation into the abuse claims against him.

Mr Kwarteng was asked whether he agreed with Mr Johnson’s latest criticism that another referendum was “irrelevant, uncalled for and unnecessary”.

“I’ve always thought that the issue of Scottish independence is something for the people in Scotland,” he told Sky News.

“I do remember, in 2014 I think it was, that they said that the referendum would settle the issue for 25 years, for a generation.

“And I am surprised at how often it’s come back, but it’s up to the Scottish people to decide when and whether they want a referendum.”

On the Sturgeon-Salmond feud, Mr Kwarteng added: “I’m not going to be drawn in on the internal politics of the SNP – let’s just see what happens in the Hollywood election in May.”

In order for the Scottish government to stage a second referendum, Westminster must grant a Section 30 order, under the 1998 Act that set up the Edinburgh parliament.

Ms Sturgeon has raised the stakes by planning to stage an advisory independence referendum if, as expected, that permission is refused.

Last month, Mr Johnson ducked a question about whether the pro-Union side would boycott an advisory referendum, saying: “My focus is on defeating the pandemic.”

A delighted Kirsten Oswald, the SNP’s deputy Westminster leader, said: “Mr Kwarteng is absolutely correct that the people of Scotland – not Boris Johnson – have the right to decide their own future.

“The UK government seem to be waking up to the reality that their anti-democratic position of denying people in Scotland that right is completely unsustainable.”

Ministers have been urged to stage two referendums, as the best way to keep the United Kingdom together – and idea put forward by both Michael Gove and John Major.

The first should be on the principle of independence, but with a second ‘yes’ vote – on the outcome of the negotiations – required for Scotland to actually leave the Union, the former prime minister said.

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