Scottish independence: Draft bill for indyref2 publishedon March 22, 2021 at 2:03 pm

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The SNP wants to hold an independence referendum in the first half of the next Scottish Parliament session.

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The Scottish government has published draft legislation for the holding of a second independence referendum.

It wants to hold indyref2 after the pandemic but “in the first half of the new parliamentary term”.

The SNP says it will attempt to pass the bill if May’s election returns a majority of MSPs who back independence.

The legislation proposes using the same yes or no question as in 2014, with the date to be decided by MSPs.

The Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems have all opposed the move, saying that Scotland’s focus should be on recovery from the Covid-19 crisis rather than a row over the constitution.

And the UK government has so far refused to give its consent to a new referendum, which First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has previously said would be needed to ensure the legality of any vote.

However Ms Sturgeon has not ruled out going to court to settle the question of whether Holyrood could legislate for a legal referendum without Westminster’s backing.

The draft referendum bill was published shortly before Ms Sturgeon was due to learn the outcome of an independent investigation into whether her involvement in the Alex Salmond saga broke the ministerial code.

The legislation proposes using the same question as the 2014 referendum – “should Scotland be an independent country?” – with voters asked to answer either yes or no.

The paperwork accompanying the bill said that this question continues to be well understood by the Scottish public.

However, the independent Electoral Commission will be asked to test the wording of the question after the bill is formally tabled.

The bill also proposes using the same franchise as is used for Scottish Parliament and local government elections, including allowing foreign nationals who live in Scotland to vote.

But there is no firm commitment to any date for the poll, with the bill stating that this is a decision “for the next Scottish Parliament to take”.

Announcing the publication of the draft bill, Constitution Secretary Mike Russell said the immediate priority would be “dealing with the pandemic and keeping the country safe”.

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But he said that “better times lie ahead”, and that “it should be the people living in Scotland who have the right to decide how we recover from the pandemic and what sort of country we wish to build after the crisis”.

He said the current government thinks the vote should be held inside the first half of the five-year Holyrood term.

And he added that if May’s election produces a pro-independence majority, “there can be no democratic justification whatsoever for any Westminster government to seek to block a post-pandemic referendum”.

He said: “Scotland’s recovery should be made by the people who live here and who care most about Scotland. That is why Scotland’s future should be Scotland’s choice.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly ruled out giving his backing to a new referendum, saying the question was settled conclusively in 2014 when the country voted by 55% to 45% to reject independence.

He told the Scottish Conservative party conference earlier this month: “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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This was echoed by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, who said the bill was a “reckless distraction” and a bid to “distract people from the Sturgeon-Salmond scandal“.

He added: “A responsible government would be entirely focused on Scotland’s post-pandemic recovery, but Sturgeon and her ministers have become detached from reality and the priorities of ordinary families.”

Scottish Labour and the Lib Dems have also rejected the idea of having a new referendum in the immediacy, with Labour’s constitution spokesman Colin Smyth saying that “the focus for all of Scotland’s politicians should be on bringing the country together, and an independence referendum is not a priority at this time”.

And Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said civil servants who could have been “planning to get cancer services running full speed” had instead been ordered to work on a referendum bill.

He added: “We are still in a pandemic. Thousands have lost their lives, thousands more have lost their job. Reasonable people will think that this is the wrong moment to be pushing a referendum.”

The Scottish Greens back independence – with the party’s co-leader, Lorna Slater, saying it “could be crucial in securing a majority of MSPs in favour of Scotland having a say over our own future”.

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