Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has kept open the possibility to hold a second referendum on independence next year. Ms Sturgeon has only revealed she wants the vote to be in the early part of the next Scottish parliamentary term, following elections to Holyrood in spring 2021. If the Scottish National Party (SNP) wins a majority, senior figures believe it will give them the mandate to demand a referendum, regardless of what Prime Minister Boris Johnson thinks about it.
So far, since the start of 2020, opinion polls have given “Yes” campaigners a consistent lead over their unionist rivals.
However, Mr Johnson has repeatedly said he will refuse to allow a plebiscite – leading to unanswered questions about what the SNP will do next.
That is a subject that divides hardliners who want a Catalonia-style illegal referendum and those prepared to play the long game who think the refusal to allow a vote will only fuel support for independence.
As a constitutional stand-off between the Prime Minister and Ms Sturgeon now seems inevitable, a document signed by the SNP leader, which promises that the last referendum would be a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” has resurfaced.
The Scottish Government published a multi-million pound White Paper in 2014 – months before their first nation-wide vote – which set out how the country would break up the UK.
Signed by Ms Sturgeon, then deputy First Minister, the 670-page document, under section 557, laid down the Scottish Government commitment to the referendum.
It came after protracted discussions with Downing Street, during which Ms Sturgeon also put her name to the 2012 Edinburgh Agreement committing herself to accepting the will of the Scottish people.
The agreement saw a Section 30 order laid in the Scottish Parliament and at Westminster to confirm Holyrood had the power necessary for a single question referendum.
Referencing this Edinburgh Agreement, the White Paper – also signed by former First Minister Alex Salmond – said: “The Edinburgh Agreement states that a referendum must be held by the end of 2014.
“There is no arrangement in place for another referendum on independence.
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“It is the view of the current Scottish Government that a referendum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
“This means that only a majority vote for Yes in 2014 would give certainty that Scotland will be independent.”
The document proves Ms Sturgeon promised she would not force the Scottish people to endure another referendum for some years.
However, only two years later, she requested a second one at the end of the Brexit process.
During a special edition of the BBC’s Question Time programme in 2017, the First Minister was challenged twice to promise that the result of a second referendum would be respected for a minimum period, such as a generation or 25 years.
An audience member asked: “If there was a second vote, should it apply for a minimum period of time, for a generation, 25, 30 years?”
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Ms Sturgeon justified her about-turn by arguing that Scots were erroneously told during the 2014 referendum that a No vote would have protected the country’s place in the EU.
However, pressed again whether the result of a second plebiscite would be respected for a minimum period if she lost, she said: “I don’t think it’s right for any politician to dictate to a country what its future should be.
“I think that should be a choice for the people of Scotland.”
According to Lord David Owen, Mr Johnson will ultimately have to back down to the SNP’s demands for Indyref2 – but not any time soon.
The former Foreign Secretary and SDP leader told Express.co.uk: “I totally believe in the Union.
“And I would be very surprised if the Government agrees to another referendum before the next election.
“It will come after the next election – so in four or five years.
“The former Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond made it absolutely clear in the 2014 referendum campaign that it was a generational question.
“He used the word. Now, you can argue about what is a generation… Certainly 10 years. I would say even 15 to 20.”
Lord Owen noted: “Referendums are rare things and are largely for constitutional issues.
“We were asked about EU membership in 1975 and then in 2016. That is a long time.
“You don’t have referendums on constitutional issues every five or six years.”