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Scottish independence: SNP will consider court battle to achieve second referendum

Constitution, Europe and External Affairs Secretary Michael Russell.
Constitution, Europe and External Affairs Secretary Michael Russell.

The SNP will consider going to court in order to force a second referendum, the Scottish Government’s Constitution Secretary Michael Russell has said.

With Boris Johnson refusing to grant permission for indyref2, prominent SNP figures are exploring other methods of holding a poll.

Previously, Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants to achieve a second vote on the basis of a joint agreement with the UK Government as was the case for the first referendum in 2014.

But on the second day of the SNP’s virtual party conference, Mr Russell signalled that the party was prepared to look at alternatives.

Mike Russell’s suggestion of legislating for a second referendum at Holyrood raises the prospect of a lengthy and costly legal fight between governments at a time when the entire focus should be on recovering from the pandemic.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union

In particular, the Constitution Secretary was asked about a proposal put forward by Joanna Cherry QC, the SNP MP for Edinburgh South West.

Mike Russell: I am open to ideas from A-Z

SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC

Ms Cherry has suggested her plan in anticipation of the UK Government continuing to reject a referendum, even if there is a pro-independence majority at Holyrood after the May Scottish election.

Under those circumstances, Ms Cherry has said that Holyrood should press ahead with referendum legislation and it could be tested in the courts whether the law was competent. Ms Cherry has argued that any such case would end up in the UK Supreme Court.

Asked about Ms Cherry’s plan on the BBC’s Politics Scotland programme, Mr Russell said he welcomed her idea and it would be considered by the SNP’s National Assembly early next year.

“Joanna will be very welcome to put that idea and I am going to say today I am open to ideas from A to Z – all sorts of ideas and good ideas,” Mr Russell said.

Asked if the policy was something the SNP could adopt, Mr Russell answered: “I think there are a range of things it could take forward and I’m going to welcome Joanna’s contribution as I am going to welcome the contributions from many others.

“Scotland wants to choose. Scotland has said that again and again. We need to decide how we go forward and I welcome all thoughts.”

‘There’s a lesson to be taken from Joe Biden’

Mr Russell was speaking shortly before the SNP conference voted by 1,204 to 262 in favour of a motion committing the party to seeking a referendum on Scottish independence if it secures a majority at May’s Holyrood election.

During the debate Mr Russell claimed if the UK Government continued to block a vote, it would have “implications and consequences well beyond these shores”.

Mike Russell on the BBC Politics Scotland programme

Mr Russell added: “There’s a lesson to be taken from Joe Biden. Confronted with anti-democratic ravings from Donald Trump, he didn’t match them with threats or losses – he matched them with a confident and flawless commitment to the democratic process.”

Also speaking during the debate, Ms Cherry made a similar comparison arguing it would be “positively Trumpian” for Mr Johnson to veto a second referendum.

But she added that Mr Johnson was capable of “Trumpian behaviour”, therefore it “makes sense” to think about what to do if the UK Government continued to block referendum plans.

She also said it was not “written in stone” that a referendum should be a once in a generation event.

‘The SNP’s priorities are all wrong’

During the debate there were dissenting SNP voices, who were frustrated by the lack of debate within the party.

Speaking against the resolution, activist Michael Cameron said: “We need to have open and honest debate and celebrate our diversity of thought. If we fail to tend to the little scratch, we risk it turning into a gaping, festering wound that could ultimately kill.”

David Duguid

Pro-union politicians criticised the SNP’s approach. Speaking on Sunday Politics Scotland, Scotland Office Minister David Duguid said the Scottish Government asking Mr Johnson for a second referendum “shouldn’t even be a question”.

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, added: “The SNP’s priorities are all wrong. While a virus is decimating livelihoods and tragically taking lives, the nationalists are spending their time debating how to divide Scotland.

“Mike Russell’s suggestion of legislating for a second referendum at Holyrood raises the prospect of a lengthy and costly legal fight between governments at a time when the entire focus should be on recovering from the pandemic.

“The people of Scotland don’t need a party which is obsessed with trying to tear us apart – we need politicians to focus on uniting us.”

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