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Nicola Sturgeon wants second independence referendum ‘early in next Scottish parliament’

Tories accuse SNP leader of ‘throwing hand grenade into the mix’ during global pandemic

Adam Forrest
Friday 27 November 2020 10:32 GMT
Sturgeon wants indyref2 ‘early in next parliament’

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants a second independence referendum in the “early part” of Holyrood’s next term, which begins in May.

The Scottish National Party leader is facing growing calls within the independence movement to hold another referendum in 2021.

“The referendum for a whole variety of reasons should be in the earlier part of the next parliament,” Ms Sturgeon told the BBC.

“I intend to say more about this before the election in our manifesto, but we are still in a global pandemic that I feel a bit more hopeful about seeing the end of than I did even just a couple of months ago.

“I’m a lifelong believer and campaigner and advocate for independence, but right now I’m also the first minister of Scotland. My responsibility is to the health and wellbeing of the country and trying to steer it through a pandemic, and I’m very focused on that.”

Ms Sturgeon also insisted Boris Johnson’s current opposition to a second vote on a potential breakaway was unsustainable.

The SNP leader claimed a manifesto pledge to hold a referendum followed by an SNP win at Scottish elections in May would amount to a democratic mandate.  

“If people in Scotland vote for a referendum, there will be a referendum,” she said. “Across the Atlantic, even Trump is having to concede the outcome of a fair and free democratic election.”

Ruth Davidson, leader of the Tories in Holyrood, said Ms Sturgeon was “irresponsible” for throwing a “constitutional hand grenade into the mix” during a global pandemic. 

It is unclear whether SNP bosses have agreed on a strategy for the period after the party’s expected victory at the 2021 Holyrood election. Westminster leader Ian Blackford said earlier this month that the party would have a platform to hold indyref2 “quickly” if it wins in May. “That referendum must take place in 2021,” he said.

Yet others in the party feel Mr Blackford is being too hasty. SNP sources told The Times that a more realistic time-frame would be between 18 months and two years from now – if support can be built for a vote without consent from Westminster.  

Mr Johnson has said the 2014 referendum was a once in a generation event. But if Ms Sturgeon wins the Scottish election, Mr Johnson will have a difficult choice: allow a vote which could break apart the union, or refuse it and thus allow Scottish discontent to simmer further in favour of independence.

Scots voted 55-45 per cent against independence in 2014, but Brexit and the Westminster government’s handling of the Covid crisis have bolstered support for breaking away from the UK. The past 14 opinion surveys have indicated a narrow majority of Scots support separation.  

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