Nicola Sturgeon has warned the Prime Minister her opposition to a second independence referendum will this week become “democratically indefensible” as she tabled a motion at the Scottish Parliament asking for the go-ahead.
The motion, which will be debated tomorrow and Wednesday, “mandates” the Scottish Government to start negotiations with the UK Government over holding a rerun of the 2014 referendum.
A combination of SNP and Green MSPs are expected to vote it through on Wednesday evening, triggering an official demand from Ms Sturgeon to Theresa May for another independence vote.
But Holyrood’s Unionist parties are expected to argue that the First Minister cannot demand a second referendum when she has no plan for a separate Scotland’s currency or how to reduce its £15 billion deficit.
Labour highlighted five separate occasions in which Ms Sturgeon’s minority government has ignored the will of the Scottish Parliament since last year’s Holyrood election.
The First Minister’s motion states that the two governments should hold discussions over the details of a Section 30 order, the legal mechanism used to transfer the powers, so that the Scottish Parliament can legislate for a referendum.
MSPs would decide the timing and franchise for the vote and the question on the ballot paper, the motion states. However, it adds that the most appropriate time would be Ms Sturgeon’s preference of between autumn next year and March 2019.
Theresa May has already rejected this timescale, arguing that Scots cannot make a judgement until they know how Brexit has bedded in. She said she was making her position clear so that week’s Holyrood debate and vote would be “informed.”
But Ms Sturgeon argued that the Prime Minister’s stance would no longer be tenable after the Scottish Parliament formally requested that talks over a Section 30 order proceed.
The First Minister said: “If MSPs pass this motion this week, then the Prime Minister's position of blocking a referendum and forcing through a hard Brexit without giving the people a choice will be democratically indefensible.
"The sovereign right of the people of Scotland to determine the form of government best suited to their needs is a longstanding and widely-accepted principle.
Ms Sturgeon argued that a “clear precedent” was set before the 2014 referendum when the UK Government said it should be “made in Scotland, by the people of Scotland”.
However, on that occasion the two governments together negotiated the arrangements for the vote, including the timing, before it was voted on by MSPs.
Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, said: “Nicola Sturgeon wakes up every single day thinking of ways to engineer another referendum because leaving the UK is the only thing that matters to her.
“It isn’t improving education in Scotland; it isn’t lifting children out of poverty; it isn’t giving us a health service fit for the 21st century. It’s independence - she is a nationalist and that will always come first. But the will of the Scottish people was very clearly expressed in 2014.”
Highlighting the divisions caused by the last referendum, she said: “We don’t want to go back to that. Those who voted to leave the UK and the majority who voted to remain in the UK don’t want to back to the divisions of the past.”
Labour pointed out the SNP government had ignored a vote in June last year to ban fracking, a vote to repeal controversial football sectarian legislation last November and a third vote for ministers to call in a series of proposals to close or downgrade NHS services.
The Scottish Government also failed to act on two votes they lost to overturn their plans to scrap the boards of Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise.
In addition, a majority of MSPs also voted to agree that the SNP’s education record meant it was failing teachers, parents and pupils.