Union ‘will have to be tested again’ with another referendum says former UK Government constitution director
There is a growing realisation among the political apparatus in London that there will be another referendum on Scottish independence, a former senior civil servant has said.
Ciaran Martin, who worked under David Cameron as constitution director between 2011 and 2014, suggested that another plebiscite was “likely” but not in the timescale the Scottish Government is pushing for.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Edinburgh International Book Festival, he said the UK was currently “heading for a stalemate” on the constitutional question as the UK Government is set to refuse a request from the Scottish Government to hold indyref2.
But he warned that continuing to block another vote indefinitely would mean the union “will have changed profoundly” from one of consent to one of enforcement.
Martin said: “My hunch, and it is just a hunch, is that there’s a realisation in London that ultimately the fate of the union will have to be tested again, not in the court of law but in the court of public opinion at some point.”
Earlier this month, Michael Gove said the UK Government would not stand in the way of indyref2 if it was the “settled will” of the people.
In an interview with the Sunday Mail, Gove said: “The principle that the people of Scotland, in the right circumstances, can ask that question again is there. I just don’t think that it is right, and the public don’t think it is right, to ask that question at the moment.”
But when asked if the UK Government would block a vote forever, he said: “No, if it is the case that there is clearly a settled will in favour of a referendum, then one will occur.”
The Scottish Government is expected to legislate for a second referendum regardless of whether a Section 30 order – which is required from the UK Government to make it legal – is granted.
But Martin predicted the Scottish Government would lose any battle in court over such legislation.
However, he warned the current UK administration against what he dubbed “constitutional cake-ism” – at once acknowledging the right to self-determination while blocking any move towards it.
He instead said unionists must seek to “expand support” for the Union, adding that the 44.7 per cent of people who backed Yes in 2014 was a “floor, not a ceiling” for support for independence.
Speaking after her party secured a fourth term in government in May, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Prime Minister another vote was a “matter of when, not if”.
The Scottish Government is expected to begin pushing for a referendum shortly, now the initial public health dangers of the coronavirus pandemic have started to pass.