Timing of second indyref "lies with the Westminster government", says Mike Russell
Russell said there would be “one timetable” for a second referendum if the UK Government agreed to compromise with the Scottish Government, adding that “if they are not prepared to do so, that dictates another"
Houses of Parliament - credit: PA
The timing of another referendum on Scottish independence is in the hands of the UK Government, according to Scottish Brexit minister Mike Russell.
Providing a ministerial statement in the Scottish Parliament after yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, Russell said there would be “one timetable” for a second referendum if the UK Government agreed to compromise with the Scottish Government, adding that “if they are not prepared to do so, that dictates another”.
The UK Supreme Court yesterday ruled that Theresa May must seek approval from the UK Parliament before triggering Article 50, with the PM today confirming ministers will bring a white paper before Parliament outlining the Government’s plan for Brexit.
But the Supreme Court also ruled that there is no legal requirement for the devolved administrations to be consulted on Brexit, meaning the Scottish Parliament’s consent will not be required.
Both Labour and the SNP announced plans to amend the Government’s plans in Parliament, while the Conservatives accused the SNP of attempting to “stoke grievance” following the Brexit vote.
Pressed by the Scottish Greens to provide a time-scale for a second vote on independence, Russell said: “I can't give the member that timetable, and he will not be surprised by that, but let me put it this way.
“The options that we have placed on the table are being closed down, not because of any actions by the Scottish government. They are being closed down by the Westminster government.
“So in a sense, the timetable of what goes ahead now lies with the Westminster government.
“If the Westminster government is prepared to operate in a way that it has promised to operate, if it is prepared to debate and discuss, if it is prepared to look seriously at where we are going, then that dictates one timetable.
“If they are not prepared to do so, that dictates another.”
Tory MSP Adam Tomkins rejected claims the Scottish Parliament had a legal right to be consulted.
He said: “The UK, not Scotland, is the member state of the European Union and it was the UK as a whole, not its nations severally, that took the decision, by referendum, to withdraw from the European Union. That matter is not devolved, and nothing in the vow, the Smith commission or the Scotland Act 2016—in any of them—has ever suggested that it should be.
He added: “The SNP has spent the past seven months trying and failing to stoke grievance about Brexit; now it seems that its ambition has been reduced to stoking new grievance about the Sewel convention.”
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale described threats of a second referendum as “simply a reckless nationalist gamble”.
She said: “Scotland has two nationalist governments which are more interested in dividing us that protecting jobs and the economy.
“Tory plans for a hard Brexit risk damaging Scotland’s economy – but the SNP government’s own figures show that independence would be considerably worse.
“These figures confirm that the UK single market is four times more important to Scottish jobs and the economy than the EU single market.”
Green MSP Ross Greer said the UK Government’s handling of Brexit showed Scotland was not an “equal partner in this union”, adding “the permanence of this Scottish Parliament is meaningless if we can be overridden at will”.
Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger said the Sewel Convention, which holds that the Scottish Parliament’s consent is needed for Westminster to pass legislation which will affect devolved areas “plays an important role in the operation of the UK constitution” but that “the policing of its scope and operation is not within the constitutional remit of the courts”.
He said: “It is increasingly clear that the Scottish Government’s significant compromise proposals have been dismissed out of hand by the Westminster government, who didn’t even wait for those from the Welsh administration.
“The minister has pointed out that Westminster is fast closing down the options for Scotland. Now the Scottish Government must confirm the timetable on which an independence referendum bill will be introduced. It’s becoming increasingly clear that we must put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands.”
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