Draft Scottish independence referendum bill launched amid concern from unionists and investors
Photo credit - PA
The prospect of a second Scottish independence referendum has taken a step closer with the publication of draft Bill which would enable people in Scotland to revisit their constitutional future.
Voters could once again be asked the question "Should Scotland be an independent country?" if the Scottish National Party (SNP) remains dissatisfied with the UK Government's Brexit plans.
Scotland voted No to independence by 55 percent in 2014, but then voted to remain in the European Union by 62 percent in June sparking a constitutional crisis after Britain as whole voted to leave.
The Bill is broadly the same as the original Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 which enabled the vote the following year, with "some technical adjustments", and has been put out for consultation.
In her foreword to the consultation, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "The UK Government’s recent statements on its approach to leaving the EU raise serious concerns for the Scottish Government.
"We face unacceptable risks to our democratic, economic and social interests and to the right of the Scottish Parliament to have its say.
"Indeed those statements contradict the assurances given before the independence referendum in 2014 that Scotland is an equal partner within the UK and that a vote against independence would secure our EU membership.
"For many people, this approach will be evidence of a wider democratic deficit within the UK, where decisions about Scotland are too often taken against the wishes of people who live here.
"Protecting Scotland’s interests is the most important job of this government. We must have every option available to do this and it is for that reason we are now publishing the draft referendum bill for consultation."
She added: "As in 2014 the proposed franchise for the referendum will match that for Scottish Parliament elections.
"That will mean that two important groups of people would have a voice that was denied to them in the recent referendum on EU membership: 16 and 17 year-olds and citizens of EU countries who have made Scotland their home."
The prospect of another referendum is already causing concern amongst North Sea oil investors.
A report by BMI Research, a subsidiary of global credit rating firm Fitch, said: "A second vote on Scotland sovereignty is the main downside risk to our North Sea production forecast, the chances of which will substantially increase if a 'hard Brexit' is realised."
It added: "The ensuing build up to the election will cast a great shadow of uncertainty over the regulatory framework governing the petroleum sector going forward, especially given the fact that the previous referendum was closer than expected.
"Companies operating in the North Sea could potentially hold off making investments in that time period, waiting instead until Scotland's fate has been determined."
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “We promised during the election to fight proposals for a second independence referendum every step of the way, and that’s exactly what we are going to do.
“The First Minister says she respects the result from 2014, but there will be more than two million Scots who now know otherwise.
“Instead of using Brexit to further her own political ambitions, Nicola Sturgeon should be working closely with the UK Government to address the risks and explore the opportunities this decision creates for industries and sectors across Scotland.
“Scotland's business community doesn't want another independence referendum, and the majority of the people of Scotland don't want another independence referendum.
“The fact that Nicola Sturgeon is desperately pushing for one shows she has given up on being a First Minister for all of Scotland in favour of championing her own separatist agenda.”
Labour's Shadow Scottish Secretary Dave Anderson said: “This is a reckless move by Nicola Sturgeon. It confirms that her priority is the politics of division, rather than focusing on much-needed improvements to Scotland’s schools or hospitals.
“Our country is already divided following the Tories’ Brexit gamble and a second referendum is the very last thing our fragile economy needs. It is little over two years since more than two million Scots voted to reject independence in what Nicola Sturgeon promised was a ‘once-in-a-generation’ referendum. Those two million votes must be respected.
“Only Labour stands for what the majority of Scots want - remaining part of the UK and maintaining our relationship with Europe.
“There will be absolutely no support for a second independence referendum from Labour.”