Could Scotland defy Theresa May and hold its own unofficial independence vote?
Deputy First Minister John Swinney did not say directly that the SNP would barge ahead with a vote without the government’s consent, but speaking on the BBC’s Radio 4 Today program, he cautioned May over refusing to give consent for another referendum.
“If Theresa May takes that stance she will be standing in the face of Scottish democracy and that is a very, very unstable and dangerous position for the Prime Minister to be in,” Swinney said.
The referendum proposal will be debated in the Scottish parliament at Holyrood over the course of the coming week.
Swinney said he is confident MSPs will agree to a repeat of the 2014 vote to bring Scotland out of the UK.
“I’m confident the Scottish parliament will demand the right to start the process of having an independence referendum and it will be up to the Prime Minister to recognize the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland,” Swinney remarked on the BBC.
“If she doesn’t she’ll be turning the clock back to the bad old days of the times when the Conservatives ignored democratic opinion in Scotland.”
May has made it clear she will not be approving a referendum in 2018-2019, the time-frame announced by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Monday.
The PM insisted “now is not the time.”
“Just at this point, all our energies should be focused on our negotiations with the European Union about our future relationship,” May said during an interview with ITV on Thursday.
“To be talking about an independence referendum will make it more difficult for us to be able to get the right deal for Scotland, and the right deal for the UK.”
She added that it would be unfair to make Scotland decide on an issue it knows hardly anything about.
“And more than that, I think it wouldn’t be fair to the people of Scotland because they’re being asked to make a crucial decision without all the necessary information – without knowing what the future partnership would be, or what the alternative of an independent Scotland would look like.”
Sturgeon, the SNP leader, told reporters on Monday a referendum would happen between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, precisely because the terms for the UK’s exit from the EU will be clear by that time.
In response to May’s remarks, Sturgeon tweeted that the prime minister must lack confidence in her own timetable if she thinks Brexit negotiations will not be laid out by autumn next year.
One last point - if PM thinks we won't know terms of Brexit by autumn next year, she must think her own timetable will fail.— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) March 16, 2017
The standoff comes as the SNP gathers for its spring conference in Aberdeen.
On the first day of its meeting, deputy leader Angus Robertson said Scotland will “no doubt” have another independence referendum, and that no prime minister should “dare to stand in the way.”
“Let there be no doubt – Scotland will have its referendum and the people of this country will have their choice. They will not be denied their say.”
While Sturgeon has pledged to hold another referendum, former Respect MP and host of RT’s Sputnik program George Galloway has cast doubt on Scotland’s chances of becoming a member of the EU once independent, claiming the country is “far from being in love with the EU in the way the SNP like to think.”
Speaking on RT UK, Galloway shrugged off the idea that those who voted to stay in the EU will automatically swing the vote for independence.
“Many of the people who voted for the EU, are against independence and vice versa, including very big figures in the SNP.”
The referendum would be the second after one in 2014, which saw a majority wanting to stay in the UK.
“The SNP will fall short of what they got in 2014. In other words, the margin will be more than 45-55, which is why I am not entirely sure that this referendum will go ahead at any point.”