Scotland’s second independence referendum delayed until after Brexit

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Posted by Geoff Bishop

Nicola Sturgeon has put on hold her plan for a second independence referendum.

This will last at least a year after Brexit following the SNP’s sweeping general election losses.

The First Minister, who in March warned a delay would leave it “too late to choose a different path”, announced the “reset” after reflecting on losing a third of her MPs on June 8.

She told MSPs her referendum bill, which had already been stalled by Westminster refusing to transfer extra powers to Holyrood, had now been put off until at least autumn 2018.

Only then, when the terms of Brexit were clear, would she set out a “precise timescale for offering people a choice over the country’s future”.

In the meantime, she said the Scottish Government would “redouble” its efforts to influence the forthcoming Brexit talks to protect Scotland’s interests and stay in the EU single market.

She later told STV it remained “likely” that Scots would have a vote between independence and Brexit before the 2021 Holyrood election.

Unionist parties said the pause was not enough, and said Ms Sturgeon was “in denial” about the depth of people’s opposition to a referendum so soon after the No vote of 2014.

Downing Street said it wanted a second referendum “off the table completely”.

There was also anger that as Ms Sturgeon spoke at Holyrood, her husband, the SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, launched a new independence campaign website.

The mobilise.scot site asked people to send the party ideas for growing the Yes movement, as well as donations to help it “take our message to every corner of Scotland”.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said: “On the one hand, Nicola Sturgeon tells parliament she’s resetting her referendum plans. On the other, she and her party launch a new referendum campaign to mobilise support for independence.

“It is appalling hypocrisy and double-standards, and it is no wonder that so many people in Scotland deserted the SNP at the general election earlier this month.”

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said Ms Sturgeon had been caught in a “brazen attempt to deceive” people by trying to raise funds for a “second separation drive”.

She said: “The people of Scotland have spoken – SNP plans for a second independence referendum are dead in the water. Instead of sticking her head in the sand, Nicola Sturgeon should get back to the day job of fixing the mess she has made of our public services.”

In March, Ms Sturgeon said she wanted Scots to vote between Brexit and independence no later than spring 2019, when the UK is due to leave the EU.

However her revised timetable implies there can be no referendum until at least spring 2020 because of the time needed to pass legislation and stage a campaign – and only then if Westminster first grants its consent.

The SNP suffered its worst electoral reverse for almost 40 years earlier this month, losing 21 of the 56 seats it won in 2015 to Unionist parties as its vote share fell from 50 to 37 per cent.

In her statement, Ms Sturgeon said even a soft Brexit would be “substantially inferior” to current EU membership, and her mandate to hold another ballot was “beyond doubt”.

However “deciding exactly how and when to exercise” that mandate was a matter of judgment, and many people felt it was “just too soon right now to make a firm decision about the precise timing of a referendum”.

“But I want to reassure people that our proposal is not for a referendum now or before there is sufficient clarity about the options – but rather to give them a choice at the end of the Brexit process when that clarity has emerged.”

She also challenged the other parties at Holyrood to help her influence the Brexit talks and campaign to stay in the single market, and promised a Scottish Government “refresh” over the summer.

Ms Davidson said the First Minister was “leaking credibility and confidence in her leadership by the hour”.

She said: “Her response hasn’t been to reflect but to simply lash out at the UK Government at every opportunity and to sing the same old songs in the same old tune.”

Ms Dugdale said: “The First Minister is digging her heels in, putting her fingers in her ears and pressing on regardless. She is just not listening. Why don’t you understand the people of Scotland sent you a clear message at the general election – get back to governing.”

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said “absolutely nothing” had changed about Ms Sturgeon’s approach, and dared her to hold another Holyrood vote on a referendum.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell said Ms Sturgeon’s statement was “deeply disappointing”, adding: “These were the words of a First Minister who is not listening, who is out of touch, and who, rather than serving Scotland, is a prisoner of her independence-obsessed party.”

Meanwhile, SNP ministers have threatened to invoke formal dispute procedures with the UK Government over the “billion pound bung” to the DUP to prop up Theresa May.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay told MSPs the Tories were “ripping off Scotland to the tune of £2.9bn” and ignoring the Treasury’s own funding rules, which say exceptional spending should be agreed with Edinburgh and Cardiff.