The Scottish parliament should be granted full powers over the timing and organisation of a second independence referendum, according to senior SNP figures, who will push for a significant amendment to the Scotland bill on Monday.
The group of SNP MPs, including the party’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, the SNP deputy leader, Stewart Hosie, and former first minister Alex Salmond, have tabled the amendment to the bill, which will enter its final stage in the Commons on Monday, to transfer control of the referendum issue from Westminster to Holyrood.
Scotland’s deputy first minister, John Swinney, backed the move on Sunday, insisting the SNP government had delivered a referendum that was “beyond reproach” in September 2014, and that this set “a strong precedent”.
He told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland: “The fact that the Scottish parliament exercised its competence with such care and such effectiveness should allay any of those questions that are raised about whether it is right for the Scottish parliament to hold that particular power.”
Before the last independence referendum, Westminster granted a temporary order that allowed MSPs some flexibility over timing and organisation, although it retained power over the ultimate time limit for the vote and the format of the ballot paper.
Speaking for his amendment, which would remove all such conditions, Robertson argued: “Whether or not Scotland has a referendum in the future should be up to the people of Scotland – and in the hands of the Scottish parliament – rather than the UK government.”
“The Smith commission reflects on the sovereign right of the people of Scotland ‘to determine the form of government best suited to their needs’, and clearly sets out that Scotland should not be prevented from becoming an independent country, should the people of Scotland so choose.”
Despite the wishes of a vocal minority of the SNP’s newly expanded membership, the party leadership unequivocally put the brakes on moves towards a second independence referendum at its conference last month.
This was reflected in party leader Nicola Sturgeon’s opening speech in which she insisted there would be no second referendum on Scottish independence in the SNP’s manifesto for next May’s Holyrood elections, and that to include it would be disrespectful to all those who voted no in last September’s referendum.
Sturgeon added that, while “strong and consistent evidence” of a change in public opinion could alter this position in the future, it was ultimately up to activists to lead that change by persuading doubters.
She told delegates gathered in Aberdeen: “What does that mean for us as a party? It means that if we want Scotland to be independent – and we do – then we have to change more minds. We have to build the case and make it even stronger. We have to convince those we didn’t convince last year.”
Salmond intervened on the issue earlier in the summer, describing the prospect of another referendum as “inevitable”. On Saturday, Conservative sources were reported suggesting that a Commons vote to renew Trident would be held before the Holyrood elections next year. Salmond has also suggested that a decision from Westminster in favour of renewal could trigger a second referendum.
This article was written by Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 8th November 2015 14.59 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010