Nicola Sturgeon planning 'endless' independence campaign after she wins Holyrood referendum vote

Simon Johnson
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reacts ahead of a vote on a second referendum on independence - Getty Images Europe

Nicola Sturgeon is planning an “endless” independence campaign to try and force Theresa May to back down over a second referendum, it was claimed after she won a Scottish Parliament vote giving her permission to start talks.

David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, ruled out any referendum until 2020 at the earliest and for as long as 2023 by stating that negotiations could not even start until after Brexit is completed.

But Ms Sturgeon announced she will make a “formal approach” in the next few days to Downing Street for immediate talks and warned she would next month outline steps “to progress the will of parliament” if her demand was rebuffed.

Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, said the SNP leader given up governing Scotland and “is now intent of running an endless campaign for another vote that people don't want.”

It is not thought Ms Sturgeon will try and call an advisory ‘wildcat’ referendum or a snap election, meaning a concerted effort to whip up support among Scots for another independence vote is her best chance of forcing Mrs May to back down.

The warning about the First Minister’s tactics came after MSPs voted by a margin on 69 to 59 to give her the authority to enter discussions with the UK Government over transferring the powers for Holyrood to arrange a second referendum. SNP and Green MSPs gave her a majority.

Ms Davidson described the SNP’s decision to press ahead with an “unwanted” referendum as “deeply regrettable” and warned it would only add to the uncertainty in Scotland.

She said: “Today Nicola Sturgeon has said she will outline fresh steps to push ahead with her referendum plans over the coming weeks.

“It provides yet more evidence that this SNP Government has given up on its stated priority to focus on education, and is now intent of running an endless campaign for another vote that people don't want.”

Speaking during a Holyrood debate that preceded the vote, she said most Scots were “sick” of the Nationalists obsessing about independence and argued people in Scotland have the "right to see the Brexit process working in practice" before another vote is staged.

Ms Sturgeon intervened in her speech to claim that Mrs May had bolstered the case for the vote taking place between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.

She repeated her claim that the Prime Minister conceded during their meeting the previous day that the UK’s Brexit divorce and trade deals will be agreed by then.

But Ms Davidson poured scorn on her insistence that the Prime Minister had made a significant concession and told the SNP leader to “sit down” when she tried to intervene in her speech a second time.

Ruth Davidson told MSPs Scots were sick of the nationalists' obsession with independence Credit: AFP

Mr Mundell also contested Ms Sturgeon’s claim that autumn 2018 was a “key point” in the Brexit talks and said UK Government did not have a “crystal ball” about when all the deals would be done.

Speaking in the immediate aftermath of the Holyrood vote, the Scottish Secretary told the BBC: “We won’t be entering into any negotiations at all until the Brexit process is complete.

“It’s not appropriate to have a referendum whilst people do not know what the future relationship between the UK and the EU is and they won’t know that until the Brexit process is complete.”

The Telegraph reported a fortnight ago this would mean a delay of up to six years, taking into account the time needed to negotiate an EU trade deal, agree a Section 30 order to transfer the referendum powers to Holyrood, approve the necessary legislation and stage a campaign.

But the First Minister said: “Today’s vote must now be respected. The mandate for a referendum is beyond question, and it would be democratically indefensible – and utterly unsustainable – to attempt to stand in the way of it.

“We will now act on the mandate given to us by parliament by making a formal approach to the UK Government within the next few days, after Article 50 has been triggered.”

Although she refused to spell out her next steps during the debate, calling an advisory referendum risks a court battle as constitutional affairs are reserved and a mass boycott by Unionist voters. An election would risk Holyrood losing its nationalist majority.

She could table at Holyrood her own Section 30 order to transfer the referendum powers but this would not actually happen without Westminster’s consent.

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