Scottish independence: SNP's new push for a second referendum despite ongoing Covid crisis is the last thing we need – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

Since the first days of the pandemic, SNP ministers have used the coronavirus emergency to defer action on matters that have presented a problem to them.

Tuesday, 25th January 2022, 4:45 pm
A return to a divisive referendum campaign will not help Scotland deal with Covid and its wider effects (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)
A return to a divisive referendum campaign will not help Scotland deal with Covid and its wider effects (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

Things like the roll-out of state-funded childcare, efforts to address the educational attainment gap and gargantuan hospital waiting times have all been set aside to allow ministers and officials to focus on the all-consuming public health response to Covid. Or so we’ve been told.

Despite this narrative, however, it was revealed over the weekend that Nicola Sturgeon will introduce legislation to the Scottish Parliament in "a matter of weeks" that will pave the way for a divisive second referendum on breaking up the UK. I’m sorry, come again?

We are still in this pandemic. The same pandemic that ministers and Cabinet Secretaries across the swollen benches of SNP/ Green government piously refer to as justification for inaction, inadequacy or incompetence. The very pandemic that the same Nicola Sturgeon once insisted we get past before any talk of a second border poll began.

Let’s be clear on what will happen next. The Green party, having taken the government’s shilling, will supply the votes required to pass a Bill through parliament to proceed with an independence referendum and with that will come an inevitable clash with Westminster.

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The Scotland Act which created the Scottish Parliament does not allow for the holding of a constitutional referendum of this magnitude without the permission of the UK government (under what’s called a section 30 order).

The UK government have already stated it will not grant permission for such a referendum to proceed (citing the need for Covid recovery for that refusal). It is highly likely that this impasse will only be resolved in the Supreme Court. That will require an unforgivable amount of parliamentary and civil service time, just at the point we are trying to pull our country back together and begin the task of dealing with the eyewatering list of problems in our society.

We don’t know yet what impact months of lockdown will have had on the learning of young people, the mental well-being of those who’ve been isolating, or the health of our economy, but we can be sure that it will be both profound and long-lasting.

In short, if you were to pick the worst possible time for our parliament and the government to begin an expensive and distracting process of constitutional navel gazing, then this would be it.

Covid has been a ubiquitous shield for a government that has long since run out of ideas. It has allowed them a reusable excuse for a raft of policy failures that were in train long before the first cases of the virus appeared in Scotland.

They now expect us to believe that this global problem has miraculously abated to the point where we can join battle on the constitutional issue once again and hell mend the other matters crying out for their attention. I’m sorry, but I’m not prepared to just sit back and watch that happen.

Under my leadership, the Scottish Liberal Democrats will fight to move Scotland on from the clash of nationalisms that has held us back for so long and bring some new hope to the streets and towns of Scotland.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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