ANOTHER referendum on independence is “certain”, the SNP’s Tommy Sheppard has insisted – the only question is when.
The Edinburgh East MP spoke out as Nicola Sturgeon published a draft referendum bill, paving the way for a fresh vote.
Mr Sheppard said no decision on a referendum could be made until it was clear whether the UK Government would accept proposals from the Scottish Government on protecting Scotland’s position in Europe.
He said: “The bill has to be put in place to give us the option. But it will be next year before we know whether we need to exercise that option.
“I’m absolutely convinced there will be a second Scottish independence referendum because I think people across the divide recognise the decision in 2014 is unfinished business. The question is – will there be one before 2020?”
Mr Sheppard said the SNP had a clear mandate for a fresh independence vote because its manifesto for the Holyrood elections in May had spelled out Scotland being dragged out of the EU against its will as a potential trigger.
He said the Scottish Government would publish proposals before Christmas to preserve Scotland’s links with Europe and it would be up to the UK Government to decide whether to accept them.
“It will heading towards Easter next year before we get a definitive answer on that,” he said.
“If the British government rules out all other options then it will have forced Scotland into considering an independence referendum again.”
Mr Sheppard said if there was to be another referendum the most likely date would be between March and June 2018.
The draft bill, published yesterday for consultation, sets out some details of how a referendum would be run, but offers no hints on the timing.
The practical details are closely modelled on what happened for the referendum in 2014 and it is proposed voters should be asked the same question.
The consultation document also acknowledges that approval would be needed from the UK Government to hold a new vote.
It says if the Scottish Government decides to go for a referendum, “it would be expected that a Section 30 order would be sought and agreed, as in 2014”.
In her foreword to the draft bill First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “This government remains willing to work with the UK Government to negotiate a future relationship with Europe that is in line with the views of the overwhelming majority of the Scottish people and which works for the United Kingdom as a whole. We will put forward constructive proposals that will both protect Scotland’s interests and give an opportunity for the UK Government to demonstrate that Scotland is indeed an equal partner.
“But if it becomes clear that it is only through independence that Scotland’s interests can be protected, then the people of Scotland must have the ability to reconsider that question, and to do so before the UK leaves the EU.”
And she said the franchise for the referendum would match that for Scottish Parliament elections.
“That will mean that two important groups of people would have a voice that was denied to them in the recent referendum on EU membership: 16 and 17 year-olds and citizens of EU countries who have made Scotland their home.”
If Ms Sturgeon opts for a referendum, she could expect to get the bill through the Scottish Parliament with the help of the Greens.
But recent polls suggest support for independence has increased only marginally since the 2014 vote which saw 45 per cent vote Yes and 55 per cent No.
Scottish Conservative leader and Lothian MSP Ruth Davidson claimed the draft bill proved the SNP’s sole objective was “separation ahead of anything and everything else”.
She said: “This is the first major bill Nicola Sturgeon has published after being re-elected as First Minister and shows that separation is her overriding concern.
“Nicola Sturgeon stated quite clearly she would only hold another referendum if that’s what the people of Scotland want.
“But the voters were clear in 2014 that they didn’t want to break up Britain and poll after poll has shown that support for another divisive referendum is tumbling.”
Scottish Labour leader and Lothian MSP Kezia Dugdale said her party would vote against any independence Referendum Bill that the SNP brought before parliament.
She said: “Nicola Sturgeon’s draft referendum bill is irresponsible economic vandalism. Our economy is in trouble following David Cameron’s reckless Brexit gamble, and the very last thing we need is more uncertainty for employers.
“This publication confirms that the SNP’s top priority is to divide our country. Instead of seeking fresh divisions, the SNP should be prioritising our public services such as education and healthcare.
“This is a referendum that Scotland does not need or want.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley called for a new post-Brexit constitutional settlement with more powers for Holyrood.
And he urged a UK-wide constitutional convention running parallel with the Brexit negotiations.
He said: “I would suggest that as part of our determination to find the best way forward post-Brexit for our relationship with Europe and the rest of the world, we must also establish a review of how the UK is organised and is governed.
“I believe that this will require more powers being devolved to Scotland as part of a Home Rule agenda to deal with the inevitable constitutional and economic changes following on from Brexit.”
Downing Street said it did not believe there was a mandate for a second referendum.
A Number 10 spokesman said: “There was one only two years ago. There was an extremely high turnout and there was a resounding result in favour of Scotland remaining in the UK.”
The consultation on the draft bill runs until January 11, 2017