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Blue Bitesize #005: So, Nicola Sturgeon wants to hold another 'once in a generation' referendum

Nicola Sturgeon has announced she wants to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence. But, what does does this actually mean? Scottish comms analyst, Matt Lomax, answers this question for you.

Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, has announced her intention to hold another referendum on Scottish independence toward the end of 2020. She described this as ‘her preferred timetable’ and introduced the ‘Referendums Bill 2019’.

In 2014 Scotland voted against separating from the United Kingdom; 2.01m Scots voted ‘No’ whilst 1.6m Scots voted ‘Yes’. The event was described by Nicola herself as a ‘once in a generation’ event that must be respected by both sides of the debate. Brexit, however, she claimed, changed the circumstances of the debate surrounding Scotland’s place in the UK.

Theresa May had declined Nicola Sturgeon's request for a Section 30 Order

The Scottish Nationalist Party, under the Scotland Act 1998 and 2016, have no authority to create, amend or pass legislation on reserved matters, such as defence, security, the economy or the constitution. In 2016, shortly after the UK voted to leave the European Union, the Scottish parliament voted to hold another referendum (the SNP & Scottish Greens voted for, with Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats opposed); the vote was declared void by the UK Attorney General. Either way, Nicola Sturgeon requested Downing Street for a Section 30 order, which would permit the Scottish parliament to legislate in a reserved area. At the time, the Prime Minister Theresa May declined, and the SNP had no choice but to accept it.

However, SNP members are growing restless and the party is struggling to get over 37% in vote share, their donations have dried up and past backers have deserted them (notably Stagecoach boss Brian Souter). So Nicola, last month, announced plans to pass legislation on a second referendum – again. Only not quite.

Because since the Scottish parliament has no authority in a reserved matter, Sturgeon merely ‘created an illusion’ to her voters by making it appear if she intended to hold another vote. What the Referendums Bill merely is, is just a smokescreen; the bill will set out what the SNP would like to happen in an event of a referendum ie- campaign spending, the timeframe & general rules. It doesn’t set a date for a referendum. It doesn’t even have the word ‘independence’ anywhere in it. But the announcement of this bill is symbolic because it gave SNP voters the chance to ‘campaign’ for the next 2 years on something that isn’t actually happening.

Scottish Conservatives Leader Ruth Davidson has asked both Hunt and Johnson to rule out a second referendum on Scottish Independence

Nicola Sturgeon will not call a referendum without Westminster’s backing. If she goes ahead without it, it would be illegal. It would be boycotted by unionists. It wouldn’t be legally recognised by any sovereign state or serious political entities. The lessons of Catalonia have (rightly) taught her to tread carefully.

So over the coming years, expect more stunts like the Referendums Bill.

Matt Lomax

Blue Bitesize is a weekly article written by our members, for our members, and looks to explain complex political concepts from both the left and right wings of our party.