Nicola Sturgeon has accused the Tories at Westminster of running scared of a second independence referendum after a senior member of the UK Government said the SNP should “forget” about another ballot.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon had appeared to indicate the Conservatives would block such a vote, but he later seemed to pull back from his remarks – prompting the SNP leader to suggest the “Tories are actually running a wee bit feart”. When pressed on whether the UK Government would facilitate a second independence referendum, Sir Michael, told The Herald newspaper: “No, forget it.”
He added: “The respect agenda is two-way. She (the First Minister) is constantly asking us to respect the SNP Government but she has to respect the decision of Scotland to stay inside the UK in 2014 and the decision of the UK to leave the EU.”
Ms Sturgeon accused him of “backpedalling” on the issue when he later refused to say if Westminster would block a second vote.
SNP backbencher Tom Arthur raised the comments at First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood, asking Ms Sturgeon if she agrees “if this Parliament chooses to have a referendum on Scotland’s future then no Westminster Tory should try to stand in the way”.
The First Minister told him: “If this Parliament voted to have a referendum on independence, then absolutely I agree, no Westminster Tory should stand in the way of the voice of this parliament.”
The SNP insists it has a mandate to hold a fresh vote on the future of the UK after its manifesto for the 2016 Holyrood election said one could be held if there was a “material change in circumstances” from the position in 2014, specifically citing Scotland being removed from the European Union against its wishes.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The mandate of this Government in relation to this is unequivocal – it was the Tories after all that put us in the position of being taken out of the European Union against our will and with the support of only one of the 59 MPs in this country.
“Strange, is it not, that a Tory party that proclaims it would be so confident of winning a referendum on independence now talks about trying to block it. Isn’t it the case that the Tories are actually running a wee bit feart?”
Meanwhile the UK Government yesterday published an official policy document setting out its Brexit plans. The White Paper lays out the government’s 12 “principles” including migration control and “taking control of our own laws”.
Brexit Secretary David Davis said the UK’s “best days are still to come” outside the EU but Labour said the document “says nothing” and had been produced too late for “meaningful” scrutiny.
Formal negotiations can begin once the UK has given notice of Brexit under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which Mrs May has promised to do by the end of March.
MPs will discuss the bill in more detail next week when it reaches the committee stage in the Commons, and Labour has vowed to force through amendments.