Independence referendum could happen this year if pandemic 'behind us'
AN independence referendum could still happen in 2021, if the pandemic is “behind us,” an SNP MP has said.
During a debate on indyref2 in Westminster, Tommy Sheppard, said it was not for Boris Johnson or Nicola Sturgeon to decide whether there should be another referendum, but for the people of Scotland.
The SNP was criticised for using one of their few allotted opposition days in the Commons to discuss independence, with Labour’s sole Scottish MP, Ian Murray, saying the party could have opted to hold the government to account on any number of issues other than the constitution.
Ultimately, the Commons voted against the SNP motion, instead backing an amendment in the name of the Prime Minister which said “the priority of the Scottish people is to recover from the effects of the covid-19 pandemic, and that it would be irresponsible to hold a referendum at this time”.
Opening the debate, Sheppard – the SNP’s constitutional affairs spokesman at Westminster - told MPs: “Let’s be entirely clear about this, no-one, and I mean no-one, is suggesting that we have a referendum campaign during the pandemic.
“We will have to have it… I tell you now, no-one is suggesting that. We will have to have that put behind us and be moving into a recovery phase before that can happen.”
Intervening on Sheppard, Scottish Conservative Party leader Douglas Ross said: “I’m interested in what [Sheppard] said because his leader, has said an independence referendum could be held this year.
“The Scottish National Party have put aside £600,000 of party funds to fight a referendum campaign this year. Are they wrong or is the honourable gentleman wrong?”
Sheppard said: “If it’s possible to have it later this year because the pandemic is over and we have moved beyond it, then I would welcome that.
“I don’t speculate on whether it’s the end of this year or the beginning of next year.
“The principle I’m advocating is that we will not be launching or fighting a referendum campaign whilst the pandemic is still extant and whilst we have the restrictions, the social restrictions on people, that are mandated by the public health emergency, that is a fact.”
Scotland Office minister David Duguid criticised the SNP for using the Commons debate to “promote separation” rather than focus on the pandemic recovery.
He said: “The people of our United Kingdom want and expect us to focus on fighting Covid-19. They rightly expect us to focus on protecting jobs with furlough payments, ensuring our children catch-up on their missed education and finding jobs for our young people.”
Duguid said Scots expect their two governments to work together, adding: “Yet in the middle of this the SNP has tabled this motion for an Opposition Day Debate not to discuss what more we can do to work constructively together to drive our recovery from Covid-19, but instead to promote separation and a pursuit of another divisive and damaging referendum on independence.”
The minister concluded: “We should be talking about building up, not breaking up our country.”
Labour's Ian Murray told MPs: “We could have celebrated the success of the vaccine roll-out—all the nations of the UK working together with our wonderful science and research and development sectors—but no.
“We could have even debated how the Tories are a bigger threat to the Union than any nationalist. They got us into this mess by playing fast and loose with the UK constitution in the first place, bringing us Brexit, English votes for English laws, cronyism, wasting £37 billion on Test and Trace.
"We could have debated how they have nothing to offer Scotland but waving their own flag, but no.
“We could even have debated how to eradicate child poverty, but no. The SNP uses its precious parliamentary time to debate another referendum—quelle surprise. Surely if SNP Members want to turn May’s election into a referendum on having another referendum, they could at least put their cards on the table and be straight with the Scottish people.”