Indyref2: Sturgeon announces plan for 2023 independence vote
The Scottish Government is going to court to fight to hold an independence referendum next year.
Scotland’s Lord Advocate will take the proposed bill for holding the referendum – published by the Scottish Government in Tuesday – to the Supreme Court to ensure the vote is wholly legal.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to restate she is “ready and willing” to negotiate a Section 30 Order with the UK Government as that remains her preferred option.
But papers will be filed with the Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon to establish whether the Scottish Parliament can legislate for the vote without such an order.
A section 30 was provided by the UK Government ahead of the 2014 referendum as part of the Edinburgh Agreement.
The Scottish Government is seeking to hold a second referendum on 19 October 2023.
The proposed question will be the same as was on the ballot on 2014: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
As in 2014, the ballot will be consultative in nature and further legislation will need to be passed by both the Scottish and UK Parliaments to make Scotland independent.
Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament in a statement: “We are seeking to deliver clarity and legal certainty in a timely manner and without the delay and legal doubt that others would prefer.”
If the Supreme Court rules independence referendum legislation is beyond the competence of Holyrood, Sturgeon confirmed her party would fight the next UK general election solely on the issue of independence. She said that election would become a “de facto referendum”.
She added that if the court does rule against the Scottish Government, that would be a strong case for independence in itself. She said that in that instance, “any notion of the UK as a voluntary union of nations is a fiction; any suggestions that the UK is a partnership pf equals is false. Instead, we will be confronted with this reality: no matter how Scotland votes, regardless of what future we desire for our country, Westminster can block and overrule, Westminster will always have final say.”
In advance of Sturgeon’s statement, Boris Johnson said he would “look forward” to hearing what she had to say. Speaking from the G7 summit in Germany, he said: “Our plan for a stronger economy certainly means that we think that we’re stronger working together, but we have good relations with the Scottish Government. We’ll see what she has to say.”
The First Minister insisted she was “not willing” to “allow Scottish democracy to be a prisoner of Boris Johnson or any Prime Minister” should he refuse the Section 30.
Following the statement, a UK Government spokesperson said "now is not the time" to be talking about a referendum. They added: “A decision has been taken by the First Minister to publish a bill, and the Lord Advocate has made a referral to the UK Supreme Court. UK Government law officers will now consider their response.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said that a “potentially illegal” referendum was the “wrong priority for Scotland”.
He accused the SNP of putting the issues most important to the people of Scotland “on the backburner for another divisive, damaging independence referendum”.
He added: “We won’t take part in a pretend poll when there is real work to be done.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar accepted that the legality of holding another referendum needed to be established but accused Sturgeon of breaking a promise to voters in 2021 when she said they could back the SNP “safe in the knowledge that [Covid recovery] would be her priority”.
He said: “The pandemic Nicola that said she wanted pull us through is gone, and the partisan Nicola Sturgeon, that wants to divide our country, is back – pursuing a referendum that two thirds of Scots don’t want now.”
Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater said: “Today we have set out the path to fulfilling our democratic mandate by delivering an independence referendum. The people of Scotland have repeatedly returned pro-independence majorities to both the Scottish and UK Parliaments. Their democratic will must be fulfilled.”