Scottish independence vote a 'democratic right', says Sturgeon

Severin Carrell and Libby Brooks
Photograph: Robert Perry/EPA

Nicola Sturgeon is to publish a blueprint next week for a new Scottish independence referendum but Boris Johnson has rejected any moves towards a fresh vote.

The first minister said the Scottish National party’s “overwhelming” election victory in Scotland, where it won 47 of the country’s 59 Westminster seats with 1.2m votes, gave her a clear and undeniable mandate to hold one.

Sturgeon said she would publish the “detailed democratic case” for the transfer of the legal powers from Johnson’s new Conservative government, which has to authorise the Scottish parliament to stage any referendum that changes the UK’s constitutional structures.

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“This isn’t about asking Boris Johnson or any other Westminster politician for permission. This is instead an assertion of the democratic right of the people of Scotland to determine our own future,” she said in a short victory speech in Edinburgh, where she declined to take questions.

But Johnson moved quickly to head off her challenge, restating in a telephone call to the SNP leader on Friday evening his implacable opposition to a second referendum.

A Downing Street spokesperson said the prime minister had reiterated “his unwavering commitment to strengthening the union”.

“The prime minister made clear how he remained opposed to a second independence referendum, standing with the majority of people in Scotland who do not want to return to division and uncertainty. He added how the result of the 2014 referendum was decisive and should be respected.”

The SNP’s landslide, winning 45% of the popular vote, resulted in defeat for Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leader, as well as seven Conservative MPs – leaving the Tories with six Scottish seats – and the near wipeout of Scottish Labour. Despite winning 510,000 votes across Scotland, Labour was left again with a single MP, Ian Murray in Edinburgh South.

Richard Leonard, the Scottish Labour leader, refused to hold a press conference on Friday and will face questions within the party about his future. He called an emergency meeting of Labour’s Scottish executive committee in Glasgow on Saturday.

Leonard eventually released a statement at 5.30pm on Friday, describing the results as “devastating”.

Insisting that he was now looking ahead to the 2021 Scottish parliament elections, Leonard said his party must listen to voters: “Constitutional issues have played a major role in our defeat. It is clear that we must do more to win back the trust of people on both sides of the Brexit and Scottish independence debates.

“But more importantly, we must bring people together. The only future for Scotland, and for Scottish Labour, will be found in bringing together our communities on the basis of the overwhelming common interest that working people have – whether they are yes or no [on independence], leave or remain.”

The Lib Dems took four seats, including that of North East Fife, where Wendy Chamberlain unseated the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman Stephen Gethins after heavy tactical voting against the SNP by Tory supporters.

A final seat was won by the former SNP candidate Neale Hanvey, who was sacked after nominations closed for making antisemitic posts and who defeated Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow Scottish secretary, Lesley Laird, in a Fife seat once held by Gordon Brown.

Sturgeon said the scale of the victory proved again that a large majority of Scots wanted to remain in the EU, three years after the country voted against Brexit by 62% to 38%. The election was a “watershed moment”, she said.

“Westminster has ignored the people of Scotland for more than three years. Last night, the people of Scotland said enough,” Sturgeon said. “It’s time for Boris Johnson to start listening. I accept, regretfully, that he has a mandate for Brexit in England but he has no mandate whatsoever to take Scotland out of the EU.”

She made a direct appeal to EU citizens – a group expected to be given a vote in any independence referendum, saying the SNP would protect and champion their interests. “I will fight with everything I have to protect your right to call Scotland your home.”

Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Tories’ interim leader, admitted their loss of seven seats was a disappointment but denied he was downhearted by a 3.5% fall in support for the Conservatives in Scotland.

“The story across the whole of the UK was the collapse of the Labour party,” he told a press conference in Glasgow.

Carlaw said he had spoken briefly to the prime minister on Friday morning. Johnson would challenge Sturgeon’s claims there was now an undeniable mandate for a referendum, by presenting “a unifying agenda that will put strengthening the union at its heart” in his Queen’s speech next week.

Carlaw accused Sturgeon of deceiving voters. “Up until 10pm last night [it] was about stopping Brexit and stopping Boris. Nonetheless, the SNP is reverting to form and deciding to take the vote it won yesterday as a free pass for a referendum next year,” he said.

Sturgeon avoided claiming the results were a mandate for independence: most opinion polls beforehand showed a narrow lead for those voters who want to remain in the UK. One poll days before the election cut support for independence by five points, to 44%.

However, a number of polls had also shown that support for independence would shift above 50% if Johnson were to win an election and implement Brexit – a stance Sturgeon will now want to carefully build on.

She will emphasise the deep political differences between Scotland and England and argue that any moves to enforce Brexit across the UK proves there is a substantial democratic deficit that can only be solved with independence.