Nicola Sturgeon has today unveiled the Scottish Government’s plans for a second independence referendum which would take place “before the UK leaves the EU” in just over two years.
The draft Bill proposes that Scots will again be asked “Should Scotland be an Independent Country?” as happened in 2014.
It also makes it clear that EU nationals living in Scotland will be entitled to a vote, unlike the Summer referendum on leaving the EU, along with 16 and 17-year-olds.
It will also see a return of the Better Together and Yes Scotland-style lead bodies on either side which spearheaded campaigning during the 2014 referendum.
But it put the Scottish Government on a collision course with the UK Government which today called on the SNP to “abide by” the result of the last referendum in 2014.
The move does not mean that a second vote on leaving the UK will happen. Instead, Ms Sturgeon insists this will hinge on the outcome of post-Brexit talks and the strength of Scotland’s trade relations with the EU. A second referendum would also need to be ratified by the UK government at Westminster.
Today’s publication from Ms Sturgeon and constitution minister Derek MacKay says the second referendum will be staged along similar lines as the 2014 vote.
Ms Sturgeon said: “In 2014, our objective was for the conduct of the referendum to meet the highest standards of fairness, transparency and propriety.
“That objective was achieved then and remains crucial for any future referendum.”
Today’s bill includes a consultation which states that the approach will be “broadly the same” as last time, with some technical adjustments to reflect recent changes in elections law and procedures such as individual registration.
Ms Sturgeon added: “As in 2014 the proposed franchise for the referendum will 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.”
As well as British citizens resident in Scotland, those able to vote will include Commonwealth citizens staying here, as well as Irish and other EU countries resident in
Scotland. Scots military personnel serving outwith the country will also be allowed to vote.
There will be no public funding for campaign organisations.
The referendum will again be regulated by the Electoral Commission. There will also be a principal campaigner representing one of the outcomes of the known as “designated organisations”. This was the role filled by the pro-union Better Together campaign and the pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign in 2014. A designated organisation would have a higher campaign spending limit than other permitted participants
The draft referendum bill will be published amid speculation that the UK Brexit Secretary David Davis is coming to Scotland towards the end of the week.
The EU referendum saw 62 per cent of Scots back Remain, but the weight of votes south of the border for Leave swung the result. Ms Sturgeon is drawing up plans to secure Scotland’s relations with the EU and the single market even if the rest of the UK leaves.
But she added: “If it becomes clear that it is the best or only way of safeguarding Scotland’s interests – and in line with our manifesto commitment – parliament must be able to consider the option of an independence referendum, to allow the people of Scotland to vote on independence before the UK leaves the EU.
“I am determined to ensure that Scotland has the ability to make that choice if it is necessary to protect our vital interests. If there is an independence referendum, it will not be because the result of the 2014 referendum has not been respected – it will be because the promises made to Scotland have not been kept.”
But a Number 10 spokesman dismissed the need for another independence referendum, saying: “The Prime Minister and the Government does not believe that there is a mandate for one.
“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.”
When the 2014 vote was proposed, “both sides agreed to abide by that referendum”, the spokesman added.
Asked if UK ministers would reject a call for a second referendum from the Scottish Government, he stated: “There has not been a call.”
Labour’s Shadow Scottish Secretary Dave Anderson said: “This is a reckless move by Nicola Sturgeon. It confirms that her priority is the politics of division.”