Scottish government publishes draft bill for second independence referendum

22 March 2021, 15:37 | Updated: 22 March 2021, 17:38

The legislation sets out the SNP's plans for a second independence referendum.
The legislation sets out the SNP's plans for a second independence referendum. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

The Scottish government has published new draft legislation on their plans for a second Scottish independence referendum, rerunning the same question as in 2014.

The legislation sets out the SNP's plans for another referendum if they win a majority in the upcoming May elections.

The party say, if this is the case, they will hold a referendum "within the first half of the next parliamentary term when it is safe to do so".

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The draft bill states the question asked should be the same as at the 2014 referendum - "Should Scotland be an independent country?" - with voters answering yes or no.

The proposed legislation would also extend voting eligibility to match the franchise at Scottish Parliament and local government elections, permitting over-16s, foreign nationals and refugees to cast a vote.

In a ministerial foreword to the bill, SNP Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, Europe and External Affairs Michael Russell said: "The Scottish government has been laser-focused over the past year on tackling the pandemic. That will remain the case as we work to keep Scotland safe.

"We know, however, that because of the incredible efforts of the people of Scotland and the vaccination programme, better times lie ahead."

He added: "If there is a majority in the Scottish Parliament after the forthcoming election for this bill there can be no democratic justification whatsoever for any Westminster government to seek to block a post-pandemic referendum."

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The move would setup a potential clash with Boris Johnson, who has repeatedly said the UK government will not give its backing to a new referendum after it was rejected 55% to 45% in 2014.

At the Scottish Conservative party conference earlier this month, the prime minister said: "I just find it incredible that the SNP would choose this moment to again push their campaign for separation.

"Just when everything is beginning to reopen again when we will soon be reunited with our friends and family, the SNP think that this is the time to turn us all against one another."

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Mr Johnson has stressed the support the UK government has given to Scotland throughout the pandemic, as the SNP seek to use it as an example of how Scots can govern themselves on key issues.

But, the PM was forced to defend a trip to Scotland in January following warnings from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that it was "not essential".

Recent polls suggest a slim majority for independence. On Monday, a BMG Research study commissioned by the Herald newspaper found 52% would vote for independence, while 48% would back no.

Similarly an Optimum study commissioned by Sky News last Thursday found a 51% majority for independence.

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However, Nicola Sturgeon herself is facing a tough week ahead, with the findings of an independent inquiry into her handling of harassment complaints against her predecessor Alex Salmond expected to be published.

The Scottish Conservatives have called for her to resign and will move a motion of no confidence at Holyrood on Wednesday.