Constitution secretary Mike Russell has published a draft independence referendum bill just days before the parliament winds down for the election
The Bill, likely to be introduced by the next government should the SNP win a majority, sets out “a number of issues” including the timing of any vote, the question and the ages of voters, which will be 16.
A “yes/no” question asking “should Scotland be an independent country?” would appear on the ballot, Mr Russell insisted, while the date of polling would be determined by the Scottish Parliament.
The Electoral Commission would need to “test” the eligibility of the question, which the SNP government wants printed in Gaelic too.
Holy moly, they’ve had people working on the referendum instead of dealing with the pandemic.”
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie
Scotland voted to remain part of the UK following a referendum in September 2014.
Support for independence has fluctuated between Yes and No since then, according to regular voter polling.
The Scottish Green Party has confirmed it would support the Bill, which would most likely be brought forward after May by an SNP Government, should they win the election.
Not a ‘priority’
Scottish Labour said the government’s full focus should be on handling the coronavirus pandemic.
The party’s constitution spokesperson, Colin Smyth, said: “The focus for all of Scotland’s politicians should be on bringing the country together, and an independence referendum is not a priority at this time.
“Scottish Labour will focus on what unites us, not what divides us.
“In contrast to the SNP and Boris Johnson’s Tories, Scottish Labour will put our national recovery first.
“At this election, Scottish Labour is putting forward a National Recovery plan that will put the national interest before the nationalist interest.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Holy moly, they’ve had people working on the referendum instead of dealing with the pandemic.
“Dozens of civil servants could have been planning to get cancer services running full speed but they’ve been ordered to do this instead. Or they could have been working on getting funds to business, better mental health services or support for schools.
“We are still in a pandemic. Thousands have lost their lives, thousands more have lost their job.
“Reasonable people will think that this is the wrong moment to be pushing a referendum. We should put recovery first and bin this bill.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “It is beyond the comprehension of most Scots that Nicola Sturgeon considers this to be a priority.
“Scotland continues to be gripped by the global pandemic and even once normality slowly returns, the shockwaves will be felt for years to come.
“The SNP Government is mired in sleaze with nothing left to offer except yet more division and grievance.
“The motivation for this is as much to do with distracting people from the Sturgeon-Salmond scandal
“A responsible government would be entirely focused on Scotland’s post-pandemic recovery, but Sturgeon and her ministers have become detached from reality and the priorities of ordinary families.
“That is why this election is so important for Scotland’s future. The SNP will neglect the NHS, schools and the day job of governance to irresponsibly drag the country through another painful battle which pits friends, families and neighbours against each other.
“Only a vote for the Scottish Conservative can block this madness. Labour simply can’t be trusted. They are more likely to side with the SNP than to defend the UK.”
Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater said: “Scotland’s future must be in the hands of those who live and work in Scotland, and the Scottish Greens are asking people to vote like our future depends on it this May.
“Our manifesto will support a referendum on our shared future, and polls show we may be crucial in ensuring this bill passes.”
‘Right of Scottish people’ to decide
Mr Russell said: “Our top priority will continue to be dealing with the pandemic and keeping the country safe, but we are optimistic that because of the incredible efforts of people across Scotland better times lie ahead.
“The Scottish Government believes it should be the people living in Scotland who have the right to decide how we recover from the pandemic and what sort of country we wish to build after the crisis.
“If Westminster maintains its control, recent history shows what Scotland can expect: an economic recovery hindered by a hard Brexit that is already taking a significant toll and the continued, systematic undermining of devolution, which is weakening our parliament’s powers to maintain food and environmental standards and protect the NHS from post-Brexit trade deals.
“Scotland’s recovery should be made by the people who live here and who care most about Scotland. That is why Scotland’s future should be Scotland’s choice.
“It should be for the next Scottish Parliament to decide the timing of the referendum. So that the recovery from the pandemic can be made in Scotland, the Scottish Government believes it should be held in the first half of the new Parliamentary term.
“If there is a majority in the Scottish Parliament after the forthcoming election for an independence referendum there can be no democratic justification whatsoever for any Westminster government to seek to block a post-pandemic referendum.”