THE Yes campaign must not only win a second independence referendum it must win it big to help unite Scotland, Ian Blackford has insisted.
The SNP’s Westminster leader rejected the notion that any Indyref2 would be more acrimonious than the 2014 poll because the stakes would be that much higher given the pro-independence camp could not afford to lose a second time.
“I understand there is emotion involved in this; of course, there is, there always will be,” declared Mr Blackford. “But I don’t accept the premise that an independence referendum campaign by its nature has to be divisive…I would absolutely appeal to everybody, our own side and the other side, let’s respect the voters, let’s respect each other.
“I want to extend that hand of friendship to everybody; it’s not about us being right and people on the other side being wrong, it’s about reaching an accommodation…[making]sure our arms are open about embracing people.”
In an exclusive interview with The , the Highland MP made clear that tackling coronavirus and making Scotland safe was the number one priority ahead of staging another vote on the nation’s future, saying “caution has to be the watchword”.
The party leader stressed that he was not saying Indyref2 could not take place in 2021 but was keen to point out the Scottish Government’s “first priority” was to “first and foremost deal with the pandemic” and that matters had to be approached in a “sequential way”.
Indeed, he noted how the SNP leadership had been so focused on dealing with the Covid crisis that it had not yet “gone into that space where we have formally articulated what an independence campaign will look like”.
As party colleagues meet this weekend for a virtual National Assembly to consider “alternative routes” to independence, the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber was asked if he had any support for the options of the Scottish Government launching a court challenge against Westminster – one such private bid is currently ongoing at the Court of Session – or of declaring independence on the back of an election win should Boris Johnson continue to set his face against the staging of a second independence poll.
Mr Blackford diplomatically said people had the right to put forward different options but made clear he preferred the “gold standard” method used in 2014, whereby Westminster would facilitate Indyref2 by granting Holyrood a Section 30 order to enable it to hold another vote on Scotland’s future.
The cautious tone of the party leader’s comments contrasted with those in November when the confidently asserted that a second vote on Scotland’s future “must take place in 2021”.
Shortly after he made that remark First Minister Nicola Sturgeon extended the timeframe to suggest she wanted to see Indyref2 in the “early part” of the Holyrood Parliament, which in practical terms could mean any time up to spring 2023.
Mr Blackford was adamant that if the Nationalists won the Scottish parliamentary poll in May, as many expect them to do, then Boris Johnson would be honour-bound to green-light another independence referendum.
“We all know that Boris Johnson likes to play the court jester but in that cold reality of an SNP election win, if it transpires, then there has to be a realisation from the Prime Minister and those around him that you cannot, you must not and you should not deny democracy.”
Also in the interview –
*The Highland MP argued Scotland was “in a different place to where we were in 2014” and pointed to the 19 consecutive opinion polls that had put the Yes cause ahead.
*When asked about putting devo-max on the ballot paper as suggested by some Labour figures, he replied: “I’m now not going to completely trash that but I do believe at the end of the day our interests are best served by Scotland becoming an independent country.”
*Asked if Indyref2 took place, how long would the result last for – a generation, a lifetime or seven years – Mr Blackford laughed and said: “I know why you ask that. Democracy isn’t a kind of one-day wonder. Democracy or sovereignty should be in the hands of the people. I’m doing this on the basis that this is a question that needs to be settled.”
*He described George Osborne’s intervention to urge Mr Johnson to just keep saying no to Indyref2 as “extraordinary,” adding: “I would say to them, you must respect democracy and if people support the SNP in the coming election in the way I hope they will, then that desire, that demand for the people of Scotland to have the right to choose their own future is something that cannot be stopped, it must not be stopped. Boris Johnson cannot deny democracy, he has to respect democracy.”
Almost a year after Covid-19 struck, the country is now suffering a third wave and another lockdown with the death toll across the UK nearing the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths and Scotland approaching its own of 5,500 deaths.
Asked if, in such circumstances, he still believed Indyref2 had to take place this year, Mr Blackford replied: “In terms of sequencing, the responsibility that we have is to deal with the pandemic first and take our responsibilities for the health of everyone.
“Once we are in a position of safety, it is right we have that conversation about Scotland’s constitutional future and we reflect on what Covid has meant, what Brexit has meant and it is right at that point, as quickly as possible, we have that independence referendum.”
The party leader went on: “You talked about Scotland being in lockdown until mid-February, I would characterise that as Scotland being in lockdown until at least mid-February and, of course, all of us want to be able to reverse these lockdown measures as soon as we can but caution has to be the watchword.”
But he stressed: “What I am not doing is saying that an independence referendum can’t take place but we have to do things in a sequential way.”
Mr Blackford insisted what was important was that people in Scotland had an open and honest debate about the nation’s future and that opponents of independence and those who had fears about it were listened to with respect.
“Their voice, their attitude and their opinions are just as important as ours are. If we do make that journey to become an independent country, it’s really important we seek to bring people back together.”
He then stressed: “It’s not just an ambition to win this, it’s an ambition to win well, which is important because it then delivers that clear message on behalf of all the people of Scotland, that settled will, but one which very much has to take on board the views of those who are not currently with us.”