Edinburgh SNP leadership hustings: 'Scotland one election away from choosing independence'

Edinburgh Eastern MSP Ash Regan claims Scotland close to independence

Scotland could be “one election away” from opting for independence, SNP leadership candidate Ash Regan has told the party’s Lothians hustings.

The Edinburgh Eastern MSP and former Community Safety Minister called for a “more assertive” strategy for independence and insisted Scotland did not need to ask permission from Westminster. Her comments came as she and fellow candidates Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf answered a question from Liberton branch member Tom Kirkwood, who asked what they would do if a Westminster government revoked the Scotland Act and abolished the Scottish Parliament.

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Ash Regan said it was clear that Westminster was “looking for all avenues to thwart the democratic process in Scotland”. Bu she said: “I don’t think they would seek to close the parliament down – I don’t think they would get away with it. But if we are on the defensive all the time, I think that’s when we start to get pushed back. The best form of defence is attack. That’s why I want us to move forward it a more assertive strategy for independence. The people of Scotland are sovereign – we don’t need to ask the permission of Westminster.”

Deputy SNP leader Keith Brown chaired the Lothians hustings with Ash Regan, Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf.
Deputy SNP leader Keith Brown chaired the Lothians hustings with Ash Regan, Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf.
Deputy SNP leader Keith Brown chaired the Lothians hustings with Ash Regan, Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf.

Her preferred plan is to treat every election as an opportunity for voters to give their views on independence and if a majority backed pro-independence parties that would be a mandate to start negotiations with the UK. She told the hustings: “I looked up the figures – in the regional list vote in the last Scottish election all the pro-independence parties combined to a vote of 50.3 per cent. What that tells us is we are very, very close to being able to win a majority in the next election. As far as I’m concerned, if we use the process I’m suggesting, we are one election away from Scotland choosing to govern itself.”

Kate Forbes said they all wanted to defend devolution, but if that was the limit of their ambition they would be “on a losing trend”. She said: “This UK government will not stop in eroding devolution. The Gender Recognition Reform Bill is not the first and it won’t be the last piece of legislation that they block. The only defence of laws in Scotland is independence. Ultimately we cannot rely long-term on the UK government to respect devolution, we have got to deliver independence. I will fight harder an anyone when it comes to defending Scotland’s rights.”

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She said If the only possible route to defend the GRR Bill against Westminster’s Section 35 veto was going to court she would go to court. But she added: “I would far rather that we didn’t just focus on defending devolution, we focused n making the case for independence.”

Humza Yousaf made clear he would fight the Section 35 order "no ifs, no buts”. He said: “It’s about the principle of Westminster being able to veto legislation passed by a majority of the Scottish Parliament. If we cave in, they will come after Bill after Bill after Bill.”

But he said the more Westminster denied democracy the stronger the SNP’s support became. “I slightly disagree with Ash here. I could see Westminster doing exactly as you outline, because they are getting more muscular in their approach, more aggressive in their approach, and if we lay down on Section 35 they wlll feel emboldened and empowered, so that’s why it’s so important we don’t give them that opportunity.”

The hustings took place at Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange O2 Academy on Friday evening. Members will begin voting to decide the next SNP leader and First Minister on Monday and the result will be announced on March 27.