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by Louise Wilson
07 January 2021
Indyref2: Draft bill could propose fresh vote this year

Jeff J Mitchell/PA Archive/PA Images

Indyref2: Draft bill could propose fresh vote this year

Constitution Secretary Michael Russell has indicated the forthcoming draft referendum bill could allow a vote on Scottish independence to be held by the end of the year.

According to the minutes of a meeting with Australian high commissioner George Brandis, Russell told the foreign official the UK Government would have “no democratic justification” for blocking another vote after the Scottish Parliament election in May.

Asked about the proposed timing, Russell said he hopes a second referendum could take place before the end of 2021.

But other documents released as part of an freedom of information request made by the Scottish Conservatives said the government had “paused” any preparation for a referendum aside from the forthcoming draft bill.

It said the Scottish Government was “focused on responding to the current COVID-19 pandemic” and would “return to the issue when it is appropriate to do so”.

The draft bill, announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in September, will propose the question on the ballot paper and the timescale for the vote to take place. The government has said this timing will take account of the pandemic.

This draft is expected to be published in March.

The Scottish Conservatives have labelled the plan “reckless” and urged the First Minister to not push for a referendum this year.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “In her BBC statements, Nicola Sturgeon puts on a false face and pretends to have paused her indyref2 campaign, but the SNP’s constitution minister let slip the reality to overseas officials.

“A responsible first minister would today denounce her constitution minister’s comments and confirm her government has U-turned and will no longer push for a second independence referendum this year, to get all the focus back on to the fight against COVID-19.”

In an interview with Channel 4 News on Monday, Sturgeon insisted independence was not a “distraction” and should be part of the discussion around recovery from the pandemic.

She said: “[The pandemic] is an opportunity to tackle some of the deep-seated issues and problems, like inequality and poverty. For Scotland that involves the consideration of who holds the levers… That’s not a distraction from the process of recovery, that’s part and parcel of making sure we are deciding as a country in Scotland what we are recovering to.”

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