The preferred date for a new referendum on Scottish independence is “very likely” to be included in the SNP manifesto for next year’s Holyrood elections, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The SNP leader dismissed calls from within her own party to outline a plan B route to independence if Westminster continues to block a new ballot, insisting separation “has to be a view that is expressed through a legal referendum”.
Speaking ahead of her speech on the final day of the SNP conference, Ms Sturgeon said the issue of whether Westminster would have to agree to a new referendum had never been tested in court and she would not rule out that happening in the future.
Asked on BBC Good Morning Scotland whether a referendum date would be included in the manifesto, she said: “Very likely, yes.
“The reason I’m not doing that right now is, I think, pretty obvious to everybody. We’re still in a global pandemic right now, the immediate future is uncertain. We’re more hopeful that vaccines will get us out of it but there’s no certainty yet.
“We just published legislation not that long ago with contingencies for what might have to happen to the Holyrood election if Covid was to get in the way, so there is a lot of uncertainty, and my focus and energy right has to be on steering the country through.
“But if we’re in a position by the time we get to our manifesto where we can give more clarity about that, then yes, that is something that I would hope you’ll see there.”
An alternative route
Ms Sturgeon has repeatedly faced pressure from leading figures within her own party, including MP Joanna Cherry, to outline an alternative route to independence if the UK Government refuses to hand over the powers needed for a new vote.
But the SNP leader insisted a referendum is “what has to happen” to show majority support and “demonstrate to the international community that it is something they should recognise”.
“The point about whether the Westminster government has to agree to that, as we all agreed to in 2014, that’s never been tested in court,” Ms Sturgeon said. “And I hope it never has to be tested in court but I don’t rule anything like that out.”
One option that has been discussed is whether the SNP could look to declare independence on the strength of winning a majority of Scottish seats in any future election, something that was formally official party policy.
In an exclusive interview in September, polling expert Sir John Curtice outlined how the 2024 General Election could be used as a de facto independence referendum if Westminster rejects calls for a new vote from an SNP majority government next year.
But Ms Sturgeon ruled it out as an option and warned Westminster would be no more willing to accept an election mandate for independence.
“What do you think they would do then?” she asked. “Do you think they’re just going to say, well okay we won’t accept the election result in favour of a referendum but we’ll accept it in favour of independence? There’s a bit of a logical flaw there.
“Democracy is what we need to put our faith in here. Boris Johnson, his pal across the Atlantic, Donald Trump, is showing what happens to leaders who try to stem the tide of democracy – they get swept away.
“So my message to my party is, let’s continue to make the case for independence, make the case for the people to decide, and have faith in the power of people to make democratic change.”