The Scottish Government intends to set out the timing and question of a second independence referendum within the next six weeks it has been revealed, with the move criticised by the Scottish Conservatives as “reckless”.
According to a report in the Sunday National, Constitution Secretary Michael Russell has said a draft bill paving the way for a second vote would be published before Holyrood goes into recess ahead of the May election.
The Bill had been announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the Programme for Government last September and Mr Russell said: “We said we would publish it before the Parliament rose and we will. It is a very simple bill, there is nothing complicated about it.
“The key point is we have said we will put it in front of the people of Scotland at an election and they will have the decision on it. It is proceeding according to what we said, it is a simple short Bill and people will have the chance to then decide what they want to do – that is democracy.”
However the move was criticised by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, who said: “It is so reckless that the SNP is ramping up plans for another divisive independence referendum at this time.
“The SNP’s threat of an illegal referendum is a distraction that risks our handling of the pandemic and will hold back our economic recovery. It is beyond belief that Mike Russell thinks that this should be the priority when lives and livelihoods are still threatened.”
The Scottish Parliament has already passed the Referendums (Scotland) Bill, which provides a framework for how referendums should be run in Scotland, as well as the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill which widened voting rights to anyone legally resident in Scotland including refugees and those granted asylum as well as some prisoners.
Mr Russell said the new Bill would “open the door” to a second independence referendum. “We will put it in front of the people and if people endorse it, that is what we intend to do,” he added. “The challenge is then is the UK Government going to defy the will of the Scottish people?”
Nicola Sturgeon has said that the Scottish Government will again request a Section 30 order from the UK Government if it wins the Holyrood elections in May this year and Mr Russell has produced an 11-step plan in an attempt to circumvent a refusal by Boris Johnson.
Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union said the government should focus on the economic recovery of Scotland and its NHS rather than independence.
Pointing to research by her organisation which shows the Scottish Government has breached waiting times targets legislation 300,000 times since it was introduced by the SNP in 2012, she said: “Thousands of patients have been let down by the SNP while it obsesses about independence.“The entire focus of government should now be on Covid recovery and rebuilding our NHS, putting patients ahead of constitutional arguments.”