DOUGLAS Ross has stressed “an unofficial referendum should be boycotted” and has called on other unionist parties to snub any poll held without Westminster’s blessing.
The Scottish Tory leader has pointed to comments from the SNP over the first vote on independence in 2014 which was labelled a “gold standard of referendums”.
The SNP has set out plans to legislate for a second independence vote if there is a pro-majority following May’s Holyrood election if Boris Johnson refuses permission for a vote to take place. A referendum would be held and a battle would likely take place in the courts to determine whether the vote is legitimate.
But Mr Ross has stressed that his party would take no part in a “wildcat” referendum.
He said: “Anything that constitutes this new battle they want to take to the courts and an unofficial referendum should be boycotted, it shouldn’t be given any credibility. It is again a divisive tactic by the SNP to split our country apart with no then formal recognition of the result.
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“I won’t be taking part in that – I would hope anyone, not just unionist supporters but people who support democracy should not take part in these wildcat, unofficial referendums.
“I would make that plea to Scottish Labour, the Scottish Liberal Democrats and anyone who believes in democracy in Scotland.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie confirmed his party “won’t support another independence referendum as we want to put the recovery first”.
He added: “Liberal Democrats are determined to stop the SNP and their plans to put a disruptive and divisive independence referendum before the recovery from this deadly pandemic.
“We need to have a needle-sharp focus on the recovery for jobs, the NHS and education. People in Scotland are appalled by the chaotic leadership of Boris Johnson and the economically damaging Brexit so perhaps the Conservatives could sort those issues out before lecturing anyone about standing up for the best interests of the country.”
Support for Scottish independence has reached record levels, with a stark study by the Sunday Times showing that a majority of people in Scotland and Northern Ireland now want referendums on their membership of the Union within the next five years and some 49 per cent of Scottish voters said they thought it likely Scotland would be independent within 10 years while only 30 per cent said it was unlikely.
Mr Ross admitted that work is needed “to convince people of the benefits of remaining part of the United Kingdom”, adding that “the opinion polls do present us with that challenge that we’ve now got to meet”.
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He was also asked about his party’s strategy for regaining support from those who no longer support the Union.
He said: “In terms of bringing people who may have moved from No to Yes, at the moment there’s no discussion or debate on the SNP’s plans for separation.
“I think if many people start to look at what will it mean for us to have a border between Scotland and England, what would it mean for currency that we use, what would it mean for our pensions, what would it mean for our jobs that were protected through Rishi Sunak’s furlough scheme during this pandemic.
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“What would it mean if we’d been independent right now, if we’d been part of the European Union and we would have been part of the EU’s vaccine rollout which is lagging well behind the United Kingdom? The United Kingdom was the first country in the world to receive authorisation to use the Covid vaccine.
“These are all things people would be getting to think about again and we have to remind people of all these benefits of the Union both in the election campaign coming up and just generally.
“There hasn’t been enough to present the positive case of the Union since 2014.”
But the Scottish Government’s Consitution Secretary, Mike Russell, said he hopes a battle in the courts over the legitimacy of a referedum would not be necessary.
He added: “We’re saying to the world: if the people of Scotland vote for something, they should get it – that’s unremarkable.
Constitution Secretary Mike Russell
“I think it’s such a bad look for any government to say ‘Even if the people of Scotland vote for something, we’ll take them to court to stop them’.
“(It’s) not just the Government – that would essentially be taking the whole people of Scotland who voted for it to court.”
He also said he did not think the UK Government would take such action.
“I think sense prevails, but it is quite fair that we say we intend to deliver that, so we’ll carry on with our referendum and if the UK Government wish to challenge that in court, they will have to challenge it and we will defend it,” he said.
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Mr Russell would not be drawn on what would happen if the UK Supreme Court rejected the referendum as unlawful.
There is no set timetable for the holding of a referendum laid out in the document, but it does say it must occur after the pandemic has ended.
Independence after the pandemic, Mr Russell said, would allow Scotland to better rebuild after the economic toll taken by Covid-19.
“The connection with the pandemic is to make sure that Scotland rebuilds in the way it needs to rebuild for its future,” he said.
“That is what we need to do, focused on Scotland’s needs and Scotland’s priorities, not be treated in the way we have been treated over the last many years and particularly during Brexit – that is ignored.”