The UK Government has kicked Nicola Sturgeon’s bid for another independence referendum into the long grass moments after it was backed by a majority of MSPs.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell said the UK Government would not consider referendum discussions until the Brexit process is complete and underlined his opposition to Ms Sturgeon’s proposal for a vote in around 18 months time.
Mr Mundell said there could be a transition period after EU withdrawal raising the possibility of a referendum being delayed until after the 2021 Scottish elections.
After plans for another referendum were passed at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon warned it would be “democratically indefensible and utterly unsustainable” for the UK Government to stand in the way of a second vote.
But Mr Mundell was unmoved by the vote which saw Ms Sturgeon’s referendum vote passed by 69 votes against 59 the day before Theresa May triggers Article 50 to leave the EU.
Six Scottish Green MSPs join with the 63 SNP MSPs to defeat the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems to set Holyrood on a collision course with Westminster.
A Green amendment to the motion calling for 16 and 17 year-olds as well as EU citizens to be given a vote was passed by the same margin.
Speaking a few minutes after the votes were counted, the Scottish Secretary said he did not recognise Ms Sturgeon’s proposal that a vote should be held in around 18 months time between autumn next year and spring 2019.
“We are not entering into negotiations on whether there should be an independence referendum during the Brexit process,” Mr Mundell told the BBC.
It is not appropriate to have a referendum whilst people don’t know what the future relationship between the UK and the EU is.David Mundell
“We don’t have a crystal ball as to how long that process will take. We don’t recognise, for example, 18 months as being a key point in the journey.
“It will be a journey that will involve negotiations with the EU. It may be a journey that involves transitional measures. It may be a journey that will involve significant implementation time. It is not appropriate to have a referendum whilst people don’t know what the future relationship between the UK and the EU is and they won’t know that until the Brexit process is complete.”
With the deadlock between the two governments becoming more entrenched, Ms Sturgeon said she would return to parliament after next week’s recess to set out the next steps she will take “to progress the will of the parliament”.
In the meantime, the First Minister said she would act on the mandate given to her by the Scottish Parliament by formally approaching the UK Government for the section 30 order required to pass referendum holding powers from Westminster to Holyrood.
She said the approach would be made within the next few days after Mrs May has triggered Article 50 today.
MSPs voted at the conclusion of a two day debate, which had been interrupted by the attacks on Westminster last week.
Re-opening the debate Ms Sturgeon said made a plea for MSPs of all parties to use respectful language – a sentiment that was echoed by others across the chamber. Despite their pleas the session was marked by ill-tempered exchanges.
Ms Sturgeon said Scotland, like the UK, was standing at a “crossroads”.
“My argument is simply this: when the nature of the change that is made inevitable by Brexit becomes clear, that change should not be imposed upon us, we should have the right to decide the nature of that change.” the First Minister said.
“The people of Scotland should have the right to choose between Brexit - possibly a very hard Brexit - or becoming an independent country, able to chart our own course and create a true partnership of equals across these islands.”
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson called on the Scottish Government to concentrate on the day job of running the country rather than fostering division.
Ms Davidson said: “This isn’t the serious plan of a responsible government. It’s just the SNP cooking up the same old recipe for division.
“Take one unworkable proposal. Add in some Greens. Stir in grievance. And bring to the boil. It might have worked once – but let me tell the First Minister: it stinks and most people in Scotland aren’t buying it”.
Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “Let’s not pretend that this SNP-Green push for another divisive referendum reflects the will of the Scottish people. Because it doesn’t. My message to the First Minister remains unchanged: we are divided enough – do not divide us again.”
The Green MSP Andy Wightman defended his party’s support for another referendum, arguing 2014’s ‘no’ vote was “incompatible” with Scotland’s vote to Remain in the EU last year.