Holyrood’s new Presiding Officer has said she will only consider the competency of a Bill for a future Scottish independence referendum when legislation is in front of her.
Alison Johnstone insisted she has not yet given any thought to whether such a Bill falls within the Scottish Parliament’s remit, saying she had already had a “lot to get my head around” since taking on her new role.
Opponents of independence insist that as the Act which set up the Parliament left issues of the constitution reserved to Westminster, MSPs do not have the power to legislate for another referendum.
But the Presiding Officer could have a key role to play in deciding whether such a Bill is put before MSPs.
Asked about the possible competence of such a Bill, Ms Johnstone told the PA news agency: “I will deal with that as and when it arises.
“At the point in time of any Bill coming before me with a question of legislative competence, I am well briefed by expert advisers, and to be honest as you will appreciate since the parliamentary elections, since the PO (Presiding Officer) elections, I have had a lot to get my head around.
“I am meeting and learning from people across the parliamentary estate everyday, just getting to meet all the group heads, people I have seen working across the building for long time.
“I am learning in depth what is they do, what they bring to the Parliament each and every day.”
She pledged: “I will react to any Bill as and when it arises.”
The Presiding Officer has a legal duty under the Scotland Act to state whether or not they believe a Bill would be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.
Even if their view is that a Bill is outwith Holyrood’s remit, a Presiding Officer has no veto and proposed legislation can still proceed, with MSPs of the parliament voting to determine whether it should be passed at each stage.
If a Bill is then passed, it would be for the courts to decide whether it is lawful if it were challenged.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already declared she wants to have a second independence referendum though she says this would only be held after the immediate crisis caused by coronavirus is over.
Meanwhile Ms Johnstone stressed she was keen to ensure debates on this issue, and others, are conducted in a “respectful and courteous manner”.
She stated: “We’re leading the debate in Scotland so I think it is important we set a good example and show you can robustly disagree with one another but you can do that in a courteous manner.”