Boris Johnson: No second Scottish independence referendum until 2055

Simon Johnson
·4-min read
Boris Johnson speaking to the BBC's Andrew Marr - AFP
Boris Johnson speaking to the BBC's Andrew Marr - AFP

A second Scottish independence referendum should not be staged until at least 2055, Boris Johnson said as he doubled down on his stance that it was a "once-in-a-generation" vote.

The Prime Minister said the time difference between referendums on Europe – the first in 1975 and the second in 2016 – was "a good sort of gap".

The Scottish independence referendum was staged in September 2014, and a similar 41-year gap would mean a rerun being delayed until 2055.

Mr Johnson argued that referendums should not be staged more regularly as they were "not particularly jolly events" and have a divisive impact.

He also noted that Nicola Sturgeon had promised that the 2014 referendum would be a "once-in-a-generation event", only to change her mind after the separatists lost.

Keith Brown, the SNP's depute leader, accused the Prime Minister of the "same old incoherent bluster" and warned that "he can't keep on denying democracy".

But Jim Sillars, one of Mr Brown's predecessors, urged Ms Sturgeon to "de-prioritise" independence and focus instead on tackling the economic devastation caused by the Covid pandemic.

Writing ahead of May's Holyrood election, Mr Sillars said the First Minister should make another referendum sixth on her list of priorities for the next parliament behind dealing with an unemployment "time bomb" and spiralling public debt.

Ms Sturgeon has said she plans to seek a mandate for voters for another independence vote, which she hopes to use to force Mr Johnson into giving her the powers for a legal referendum.

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A series of opinion polls have shown majority support for separation, and the SNP on course for a landslide Holyrood majority. However, the polls also indicate that another referendum is a low priority for most people.

The BBC's Andrew Marr challenged Mr Johnson about what "democratic tools" were available for Scots who had changed their minds after Brexit and now backed independence.

The Prime Minister said: "Referendums in my experience, direct experience, in this country are not particularly jolly events. They don't have a notably unifying force in the national mood, they should be only once in a generation."

Asked about the difference between staging a referendum on EU membership and denying one on Scottish independence being requested, he said: "The difference is we had a referendum in 1975 and we then had another one in 2016. That seems to be about the right sort of gap."

Writing in the Sunday Times, Mr Sillars said Ms Sturgeon shelving her referendum plans for the time being would "bring her into line with the public's view".

But the veteran nationalist admitted that she and Ian Blackford, the SNP's Westminster leader, were unlikely to agree after firing up their activists to expect an early poll.

He said: "It would take a level of wisdom and courage so far missing to talk them down to the new reality that there will not be a binding independence referendum in 2021 or likely in 2022."

Mr Sillars said voters face a choice in May's election between an SNP administration whose recent record is "the epitome of incompetence" or one of the opposition parties "whose own incompetence is staggering."

Mr Brown said: "It may be a new year but it's the same old incoherent bluster from Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister pretends otherwise but he knows he can't keep on denying democracy.

"Even his American pal Donald Trump has learned that if you try to stand in the way of the democratic choice of a nation you get swept away."

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