Nicola Sturgeon has insisted “now is the time for independence” as she unveiled plans to hold a second referendum on Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom on October 19 2023.
The Scottish First Minister outlined plans to hold a consultative vote on that date, with her Government publishing a Bill to enable a second referendum.
She also revealed to MSPs at Holyrood that Scotland’s most senior law officer, Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain will refer the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill to the UK Supreme Court, to see if such a vote would be legal.
However, Boris Johnson has insisted the focus should be on the economy, as he argued the UK would have a “stronger economy and stronger country together”.
A Number 10 spokesman made clear the Prime Minister continues to believe it is “not the time to be talking about” a second referendum on Scottish independence.
The spokesman said: “Our position remains unchanged that both ours and the Scottish Government’s priority should be working together with a relentless focus on the issues that we know matter to people up and down the country.”
Mr Johnson, meanwhile, said that while he would study the Scottish First Minister’s plans “the focus of the country should be on building a stronger economy”.
“I haven’t seen exactly what she’s said yet,” he told reporters as he travelled to Madrid for the Nato summit.
“We will study it very carefully and we will respond properly.
“The focus of the country should be on building a stronger economy, that’s what we’re doing with our plan for a stronger economy and I certainly think that we’ll be able to have a stronger economy and a stronger country together.”
Ms Sturgeon argued it was time for Scots to “debate and decide the future of our country”.
In a statement to Holyrood she said: “Now is the time to get Scotland on the right path, the path chosen by those who live here.
“Now is the the time for independence”.
She said while she had a “clear democratic mandate” for another referendum, the UK Government was “regrettably refusing to respect Scottish democracy”.
Opposition MSPs in Holyrood accused Ms Sturgeon of putting the “priorities of Scots on the backburner” to focus instead on her independence “obsession”.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross was also clear his party will not participate in an illegal referendum.
Ms Sturgeon, however, said her plans provided for an “indisputably lawful” referendum to take place.
In the event the court rules the proposals are outside of the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, the next general election will become “de facto referendum” on independence, she said
She continued: “If it does transpire that there is no lawful way for this Parliament to give the people of Scotland the choice of independence in a referendum, and if the UK Government continues to deny a section 30 order, my party will face the UK general election on this single question: should Scotland be an independent country?”
But Mr Ross said the First Minister’s “selfish obsession” with another “divisive” referendum has taken precedence over issues such as the cost-of-living crisis and NHS waiting times.
“A potentially illegal referendum next year is the wrong priority for Scotland,” he said.
He added: “We won’t play Nicola Sturgeon’s games. We won’t take part in a pretend poll when there is real work to be done.
“Real work on the global cost-of-living crisis, real work to invest in public services, real work to rebuild our economy.
“Those are our priorities and they’re the priorities of people across Scotland as well.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the First Minister’s timing was wrong in launching the campaign while the Covid-19 pandemic was still causing people to lose their lives.
He said: “For households across Scotland, it doesn’t feel like this crisis is over.
“Isn’t it the case that the pandemic Nicola that said she wanted us to pull us through is gone, and the partisan Nicola Sturgeon that wants to divide our country is back, pursuing a referendum that two-thirds of Scots don’t want right now.”
Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Alex Cole-Hamilton asked Ms Sturgeon why her “fixation with breaking up the United Kingdom will always trump the needs of the people in the country”.
On Tuesday evening, the Supreme Court confirmed it had received a “reference” by the Lord Advocate under its devolution jurisdiction.
In the first stage, it will be considered by Supreme Court president Lord Reed of Allermuir.
He will decide whether there are preliminary matters to be addressed, when the case will be heard, how many Justices will consider the reference, and which Justices will sit on the bench.