Nicola Sturgeon slammed by Ross for ‘failure’ on education policy
The Scottish National Party (SNP) has announced plans to try to legislate for a second independence referendum even if Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues to refuse to approve such a vote. Michael Russell, Scotland’s Constitution Secretary and SNP President, has said a bill to hold Indyref2 will be introduced to the Scottish Parliament if the Holyrood elections result in a pro-independence majority. The plans follow growing pressure on SNP leaders from members for a “Plan B” route to a referendum.
Mr Johnson has said he will not approve another independence vote and argued in an interview this month that Westminster should not allow one until the 2050s.
Mr Russell said in a statement that the Scottish Parliament could then pass a bill preparing for an independence vote even without UK approval, challenging Westminster to “take legal action to dispute the legal basis of the referendum and seek to block the will of the Scottish people in the courts”.
The Scottish Government and some legal experts have in the past argued that Edinburgh can legally unilaterally hold an advisory independence referendum under current devolution law.
In a speech last year, Ms Sturgeon said she did not rule out testing the legality of such a vote.
However, in an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, renowned constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor cast a shadow over Ms Sturgeon’s plan.
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Michael Russell, Scotland’s Constitution Secretary and SNP President
He argued that holding such a referendum without Westminster’s authority would be ultra vires” – Latin for “beyond the powers” – “because matters connected with the union are reserved”.
Because of this, the SNP will end up being sued in the courts and the Scottish taxpayer will have to foot the hefty bill.
He said: “A referendum would be clearly illegal since the devolution legislation declares that matters relating to the Union are reserved to Westminster; and nothing could be more related to the Union than an independence referendum.
“If they try to hold a referendum, they would be spending money illegally and could be sued in the courts.
“Scottish taxpayers will bear the costs.”
When asked why Ms Sturgeon decided to go with the strategy, Professor Bogdanor said: “It may be no more than a threat, it could be bluff, but whether so or not, the devolution legislation is perfectly clear.
“The courts would not take long to decide the issue.
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Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
“Their case would last five minutes.”
The plan has also met with resistance from Scottish Tories.
Douglas Ross, the Conservative Party leader in Scotland, told the Daily Mail that unionists could boycott the vote.
He said: “Most Scots will wonder why time, energy and resources are going into pursuing an illegal referendum when we are facing far bigger challenges.”
Prof Bogdanor’s warning comes as it has emerged that Ms Sturgeon’s government has spent more than £700,000 on Covid-19 thank-you letters.
The letters, sent to all Scottish households, express gratitude for adhering to Scotland’s coronavirus restrictions, which were introduced last March.
However, critics of the Scottish First Minister branded the move as being “close to political campaigning” at a cost to the taxpayer.
In the letters, seen by Express.co.uk, Ms Sturgeon wrote: “Thank you for sticking with it, Scotland.
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Professor Vernon Bogdanor
“Recent weeks have been difficult, and while there is hope on the horizon with the rollout of the vaccine to our elderly and most vulnerable, we all need to continue to stick to the rules and play our part in tackling coronavirus in our communities.”
She warned the first weeks of January had “presented us all with challenges as we look to reduce the spread of coronavirus”.
The SNP leader added: “The introduction of a new strain which spreads more easily has required us all to take further steps to prevent the virus taking hold in Scotland.
“I will never be able to thank you, your family and your loved ones, enough for what you have sacrificed to help Scotland through this pandemic so far.
“I know it’s hard, but taking these difficult steps is our main weapon against the virus – to protect our lives, our health and our jobs – until the vaccine for coronavirus becomes more widely available.”
Jackie Baillie MSP, interim leader of Scottish Labour, said the letters should have been signed by scientists rather than herself.
Should Scotland become independent?
She said: “Polling shows that people have considerably more trust in the NHS as a source of information on Covid-19 than they do in the Scottish and UK Governments.
“Of course it is vital that the public is kept informed of Scotland’s efforts to tackle Covid-19, but it seems both opportunistic and irresponsible for the First Minister to be signing taxpayer-funded letters to every household in Scotland just four months before the Scottish Parliament elections.
“If the intention is to maximise compliance with the Covid-19 restrictions and stop the spread of the virus, surely it would be more appropriate for this letter to have been signed by medical chiefs rather than by a politician?”
Duncan Simpson, Research Director at the Taxpayers Alliance, added: “Using taxpayers’ cash for what looks like propaganda is not on.
“Providing advice from medical professionals during a pandemic is obviously appropriate, but puff pieces from ministers is not.
“This is especially true in light of the Scottish government’s continued daily television briefings.
“Nicola Sturgeon should keep her ego in check and stop taking Scottish taxpayers for a ride.”