Sturgeon refuses to confirm Blackford suggestion of Indyref2 in 2021

The First Minister refused to be drawn on remarks by the SNP’s Westminster leader that a second referendum could be held this year.

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon has refused to be drawn on whether a second Scottish independence referendum could be held in 2021 – despite the SNP Westminster leader indicating that such a vote could be held towards the end of the year.

Ian Blackford insisted that a vote on Scotland leaving the United Kingdom could take place “as early as late 2021”.

His comments drew a furious reaction from opposition politicians, with Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross insisting such a vote would be “reckless and wholly irresponsible”.

Ms Sturgeon, asked about the prospect of holding a second independence vote in 2021 at her coronavirus briefing, said: “I am not getting into political questions right now.”

She added: “This is a Covid briefing, I am going to stick to that today. My focus is on Covid and doing what is right around Covid for as long as it takes, that is what I am here to talk about today.”

Her comments came after Mr Blackford told the PA news agency he wanted a second referendum to take place “as quickly as is practically possible”.

If the SNP win in May’s Scottish Parliament elections, he said a referendum Bill, which will be published “over the coming weeks” could then be enacted.

Mr Blackford stressed: “Of course, what I would say is that the first priority of the Government is dealing with the Covid crisis, it’s about keeping people safe, it’s about the acceleration that we’ve seen with the vaccine programme, it’s about taking off the measures of lockdown as and when we can.”

But he added: “When we’ve got to that position of safety, that would be the right time to have the referendum.”

He noted that the Scottish Constitution Secretary, Mike Russell, had previously indicated any referendum could only be held six months after the legislation for it is passed.

Mr Blackford added that meant if a Bill was passed in June “it could be the case we could face a referendum as early as late 2021”.

Mr Ross blasted that position, with the Scottish Tory MP saying: “There is nothing more reckless and wholly irresponsible than pushing for another referendum as early as this year, when all our efforts should be on tackling Covid-19 and protecting jobs.”

The Conservative leader said: “We need to focus on the current crisis, not create a whole new one with another divisive referendum.

Coronavirus – Thu Jul 30, 2020
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie described the idea of a referendum this year as ‘divisive politicking’ (Colin Fisher/Alamy)

“The health crisis may soon be over thanks to the resounding success of Scotland and the UK’s vaccine scheme but the next great challenge, the economic crisis, is still to come.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie was also critical, saying: “Another independence referendum will do nothing for the hundreds of thousands of people whose operations have been cancelled, or the children whose education has been disrupted.

“This suggestion from Ian Blackford is not just divisive politicking at a time when the country should be coming together, it’s a threat to divert resources away from the issues that really need it.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour constitution spokesperson Colin Smyth said: “At a time of national crisis, the public want our politicians to focus on what unites our country – not more division.

“It is irresponsible and out of step for Ian Blackford to say the priority should be another referendum, not a Covid recovery plan to rebuild Scotland after the pandemic.”

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