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Sturgeon’s Indyref2 plan based on ‘ideal set of circumstances’

NICOLA Sturgeon’s plan to hold a second independence referendum by the end of 2023 depends on “an ideal set of circumstances”, her Westminster leader has said.

Ian Blackford appeared to back away from the First Minister’s preferred timetable as he was asked on the BBC Sunday Show about the impact of the pandemic on it.

He said he and the First Minister we “absolutely desperate” to talk to the country about independence but “we have to deal with the pandemic first and foremost”. 

he Skye MP also refused to put a date on a Holyrood Referendum Bill, merely saying it would be brought forward “over the course of the coming period”.

Mr Blackford was speaking shortly after Ms Sturgeon said she didn’t know if the arrival of the worrying Omicron Covid variant would delay her independence plans.

She said steering Scotland safely through the pandemic would be her focus and priority “for as long as necessary”.

Ms Sturgeon has said she wants to hold a second referendum before 2024, Covid permitting, with independence in 2026 if there is a Yes vote.

However Boris Johnson has refused to grant Holyrood the power it needs to hold a legally watertight vote.

Ms Sturgeon has said MSPs will pass a unilateral Referendum Bill if he continues to block her mandate, however this could well be struck down by the UK Supreme Court.

The SNP’s apparent inability to overcome UK Government resistance has led to growing unhappiness in the Yes movement.

Former SNP Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill yesterday told his new Alba party that the 2023 timetable was a “fraud”.

While deputy First Minister John Swinney yesterday told the SNP’s online conference he understood why members felt “impatient for independence”.

It led to former SNP health secretary Alex Neil complaining there was “no sign” of original thinking on the issue, and former party deputy leader Jim Sillars said Mr Swinney’s speech contained “nothing of substance”, adding: “John could not set the political heather on fire with a can of petrol and a lighted torch”.

Asked about a Scotland on Sunday report in which Profession Sir John Curtice said Ms Sturgeon had to deliver the referendum she promised, Mr Blackford said: “We have to deal with the pandemic, we have to keep people safe. Let’s do that.

“What we’ve said is we have a mandate for an independence referendum.

“We won the election. There’s a majority in the Scottish Parliament for that.

“There will be a Bill published which will be voted upon and will be passed that will give the right of the Scottish Parliament to enact the will of the people of Scotland.”

Asked when the Referendum Bill would arrive, Mr Blackford said: “That Bill will come over the course of the coming period.

“At the end of the day, we have to deal with the pandemic first and foremost. 

“I don’t think it will come as a surprise to you and perhaps anybody else watching this that myself and the First Minister are absolutely desperate that we have that conversation with the people of Scotland about the type of country that we want to live in.

“And the First Minister has said that once we’ve dealt with the pandemic, let’s get this out the road, in an ideal set of circumstances we’d be having that referendum in 2023.

“My message to Boris Johnson though is that he has got to respect democracy.

“He’s got to respect the fact that the people of Scotland elected a Government that has a mandate for an independence referendum.”

When it was put to him the polls showed little public appetite for a referendum at present, Mr Blackford said: “What people do say is that they expect a referendum in the lifetime of this parliament. What we’re doing is we’re taking our responsibilities seriously with the pandemic.

“Then we’ll go and have that referendum.

“We have to reflect on the fact that we’ve just won an election seven months ago. Four elections on the trot we’ve won. We’ve increased our share of the vote in each and every election. The highest share of the vote of any party in any election in the United Kingdom over the last 50 years, and it’s ben absolutely unequivocal that the SNP were seeking a mandate to deliver that independence referendum. 

“My message to everybody is – that referendum will come. But we’ll  take our responsibilities in the near term to make sure we deal with the Covid crisis and then move on and allow people to have their say on Scotland’s future.”

Earlier, on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, Ms Sturgeon was asked if the arrival of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus would delay her Indyref2 timetable.

She said: “I don’t know the answer to that question right now. 

“But what I do know, and I’ve said this all along, I was elected seven months ago during an election campaign where I made this very clear – for as long as necessary, steering and leading Scotland through this pandemic is my focus and my priority now. 

“I made a statement in Parliament as I do every week on Tuesday, where I was really hopeful that we were starting to turn the corner, cases are stable, slightly declining in Scotland right now, clearly a few days on the situation potentially looks very different with the arrival of this new variant.”

Pressed on whether she could yet tell her party when Indyref2 would happen, she replied: “I think if I stood up in front of my party, as I will do tomorrow, and told them that I alone in the world could see when this Covid pandemic was going to end, then people would look at me a bit askance. 

“I am a politician but I’m a politician that tries to be as straight as I can with people. 

“People are entitled to judge the quality of those answers. 

“We’re in a global pandemic. It’s still causing us serious challenges.

“I take my duties as First Minister very seriously. My primary duty right now is to lead the country through this pandemic and hopefully soon out of the other end of it.”


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