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by Louise Wilson
08 February 2023
De facto referendum 'will not deliver independence' - SNP MP

De facto referendum 'will not deliver independence' - SNP MP

Using the next general election as a de facto referendum is a "deficient mechanism" and "will not deliver independence", an SNP MP has said.

In a new paper published ahead of his party's special conference next month, Glasgow MP Stewart McDonald warned that pursuing this strategy "could set our movement back significantly".

Acknowledging the difficulty of meeting any criteria set by the party, such as securing 50 per cent of the vote, McDonald also said there were "no grounds to believe" a UK government would accept the result and begin negotiations on Scottish independence.

The intervention comes after the MP stepped down from the Westminster frontbench, days after new leader Stephen Flynn was installed.

McDonald, whose constituency partially overlaps with Nicola Sturgeon's Holyrood constituency, said more effort must be made to boost support for independence overall and he called for a "cross-country campaign body" to be set up this summer.

He added: "The UK Government will not open independence negotiations following a de facto referendum.

"Yet, even as the UK Government does nothing, all manner of unreasonable expectations and demands would come to fall on the leadership of the independence movement and the Scottish Government, such as calls for a unilateral declaration of independence.

"This would place the country’s elected leadership in an impossible position and diminish our standing with the electorate and international partners."

Sturgeon announced her party would approach the next general election as a de facto referendum after the Supreme Court ruled the Scottish Parliament could not legislate for one without permission from the UK government.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has previously said he "can’t imagine the circumstances" in which he would allow a referendum to go ahead.

Accusing UK ministers of "democracy denial", Sturgeon said after the court ruling: "We must, and we will, find another democratic lawful and constitutional means by which the Scottish people can express their will. In my view that can only be an election."

The special conference is set to take place on 19 March in Edinburgh and will seek to address questions about the campaign, the manifesto and whether votes for other pro-independence parties will count towards the total vote share.

Former SNP MSP and minister Alex Neil has backed McDonald's paper, writing in the foreword that a de facto referendum is "likely to be an own goal".

The pair advocate getting a majority of seats in the election, with a manifesto which clearly says powers for a referendum must be passed to Holyrood.

Neil says such a result would mean a future UK government "will be compelled to act".

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