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Scotland publishes second independence referendum bill

The Guardian logo The Guardian 29/05/2019 Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent
a young boy wearing a white shirt: Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish Nationalist party secured three MEPs in the European elections. © PA Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish Nationalist party secured three MEPs in the European elections.

Legislation to enable the staging of a second referendum on independence has been published by the Scottish government, as Nicola Sturgeon said another vote before 2021 would give Scotland “the opportunity to choose to be an independent European nation – rather than have a Brexit future imposed upon us”.

The framework bill, published on Wednesday morning, comes after the Scottish National party secured a record three MEPS and its highest-ever European parliament vote at 38%, boosted by Sturgeon’s clear pro-remain campaigning, in which the first minister urged voters to support her party whether or not they were pro-independence, to send a convincing message about Scotland’s opposition to Brexit.

The Referendums (Scotland) bill does not specify the date, question or referendum period, which would all be set by secondary legislation. Sturgeon has previously committed to securing the necessary transfer of powers from Westminster before holding a vote, something Theresa May has consistently stated she would refuse if requested.

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Scottish independence supporters march through Glasgow during the All Under One Banner march. © PA Scottish independence supporters march through Glasgow during the All Under One Banner march.

The SNP leader said: “We will seek agreement to a transfer of power at an appropriate point to enable an independence referendum that is beyond challenge to be held later in this parliament. It is essential the UK government recognises that it would be a democratic outrage if it seeks to block such a referendum – indeed, any such stance would, in my view, prove to be utterly unsustainable.”

© Getty

Sturgeon, who first announced she wanted new legislation for a second referendum in June 2016, immediately after the UK voted to leave the EU, added: “Now, more than ever, it is essential that we keep Scotland’s options open so that people have the opportunity to choose a better future.”

“Throughout the Brexit process, Scotland has been treated with contempt by Westminster, and our efforts to find compromise and protect the interests of the people of Scotland, who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, have been ignored.”

Outlining her intention to publish the legislation last month, Sturgeon insisted that a second independence referendum must be held before the next Holyrood parliament election in May 2021 if Brexit went ahead, but has since revised her position, suggesting that she would still push for another vote even if the UK remained within the EU.

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While recent polling has shown a slight lift in support for independence, she cautioned party’s activists at last month’s SNP conference about the need to build popular support for their cause.

As a challenge to critics who warn that independence would result in billions of pounds in spending cuts, Sturgeon announced at that conference a new campaign on the economics of independence launching this summer, and including a guide on the subject for all 2.4m Scottish households.

The proposed bill is intended to become law by the end of this year, and is expected to pass without difficulty given Holyrood’s pro-independence majority between the SNP and Scottish Greens.

The Scottish government’s constitutional relations secretary, Michael Russell, will give a statement to MSPs on Wednesday afternoon on the “next steps on Scotland’s future”, including plans for a citizens’ assembly to discuss Brexit and independence.

The Scottish Conservatives accused Sturgeon of “pandering to her party, not speaking for the country”.

The party’s constitution spokesman, Adam Tomkins, said: “It will come as no surprise to anybody in Scotland that Nicola Sturgeon has decided to use the EU elections to manufacture the case for a second independence referendum. No matter what people in Scotland say or do, the SNP’s answer is always the same – to take us out of the UK.”

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