In a development with potentially big consequences, Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon has told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that a second referendum on independence was inevitable following a resounding election victory by her party.
Johnson’s Conservative Party is strongly opposed to a referendum and is of the opinion that the matter was settled in 2014 when the Scots voted against independence by 55% to 45%.
However, pro-independence parties won a majority in the Scottish parliament in elections held on Thursday; taking this as a mandate Sturgeon said she will urge ahead with plans for a second referendum after the COVID-19 crisis.
“The First Minister reiterated her intention to ensure that the people of Scotland can choose our own future when the crisis is over,” said Sturgeon’s media office in a statement after she spoke to Johnson on the phone. “(She) made clear that the question of a referendum is now a matter of when – not if.”
Johnson’s Downing Street office downplayed Sturgeon remark and instead emphasised on “the importance of focusing on COVID recovery at this time”.
Incidentally,, Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP) won 64 seats in the Scottish parliament, just one short of an overall majority. With its Green allies, who won eight and also favour independence, it is in control of the political agenda in Scotland.
The massive win has given rise to speculation that when the Scottish parliament legislated for a referendum, the British government would go to court to stop it. But senior minister Michael Gove sidestepped repeated questions on the matter.
“We’re not going to go there,” said Gove to Sky News. “To start speculating about this type of legislation or that type of court hearing and all the rest of it, it’s just a massive distraction.”
During an interview with the BBC, Sturgeon said, it would be “absurd and completely outrageous” for the British government to take legal action to stop a referendum. She went on to argue that for London to use “force of law” to prevent a vote would amount to saying that the 300-year-old union between England and Scotland was no longer based on consent.
“I don’t think we will get there,” said Sturgeon.
Under the 1998 Scotland Act – which created the Scottish parliament and devolved some powers to Edinburgh from London – all matters relating to the “Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England” are reserved to the UK parliament. Under the act, the UK parliament can grant the Scottish government the authority to hold a referendum, a process that was used to allow the 2014 plebiscite to go ahead and which Sturgeon said should unfold again for a new referendum.