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Scottish constitution debate is 'fantasy' politics, critics tell SNP

Angus Robertson and Jamie Hepburn

Scottish constitution debate is 'fantasy' politics, critics tell SNP

A debate over the constitution of an independent Scotland is "fantasy" politics, opposition parties have told the Scottish Government.

Ex-Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said there are "two phrases which sum up the mood of the Unionist majority in this country - advance Britannia; God save the King".

And independence minister Jamie Hepburn suggested the UK Government is the "wolf at the door".

Ahead of the session, there was criticism over the decision to give parliamentary time to the matter in the last few days before parliamentary recess.

Constitution secretary Angus Robertson said a written constitution for a future independent Scotland is "about imagination, about setting out the sort of country that you aspire to be, about identifying and making real your values as a country and about protecting and promoting people's rights".

However, Tory, Labour and Lib Dem members attacked the SNP-Green government for spending parliamentary time on a "fantasy".

The debate came just days after SNP members met in Dundee for the party's independence convention.

Labour's Neil Bibby accused that party of using the parliament to progress its internal party politics, saying: "We're having this debate today because of the SNP convention in Dundee at the weekend and the need for the SNP leadership to kid-on to the grassroots that they are making progress when they aren't."

Referring to the police investigation over SNP finances and a downturn in the party's polling, Bibby said: "We are therefore having to indulge in an exercise in SNP internal party management, as well as a desperate attempt for the SNP to try and be relevant at the next general election. 

"At the weekend SNP members were asked to ignore the blue police tents, the opinion polls and other minor issues like to currency and borders, [and] the promised referendum date in October, and take their imagination for a walk up to the top of the hill once again to imagine a world where Scotland is free, where everyone agrees with each other and the scary problems of the outside world daren't intrude."

The Dundee event saw First Minister Humza Yousaf return to a version of Nicola Sturgeon's "de facto" referendum plan, which would use the next general election as a test of independence support.

While Sturgeon's strategy would have required a win of more than 50 per cent of votes to establish majority backing for independence, Yousaf's suggests securing a majority of Scottish seats would be enough to do so.

Donald Cameron of the Scottish Conservatives called that "a nonsense" and a "desperate barrel-scraping strategy".

When asked what Scots have to do to hold a referendum about the country's future, Cameron said: "People in Scotland had a referendum about their future in 2014."

On whether the Labour party supports the enshrinement of rights in a codified constitution, Bibby said there should be "a change in government at Westminster".

"We're wasting our time," ex-Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said, arguing that school violence, dental services, welfare payments and more could be discussed instead.

Attacking UK Government decision-making, Hepburn said the current constitution settlement is resulting in an "erosion of rights and the narrowing of the scope of devolution".

Pointing to the Conservative then Labour benches, he told the chamber: "We have the underpinning things we have to be an independent state; what we don't have is a written constitution. That allows that lot over there to attack our rights and that lot over there will do absolutely nothing."

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