Nicola Sturgeon says she will hold an advisory referendum on independence if the Scottish National party wins a majority in May’s Holyrood elections, regardless of whether Westminster consents to the move.
Her party is setting out an 11-point roadmap for taking forward another vote, which will be presented to members of the SNP’s national assembly on Sunday.
Scotland’s first minister told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning: “I want to have a legal referendum, that’s what I’m going to seek the authority of the Scottish people for in May and if they give me that authority that’s what I intend to do: to have a legal referendum to give people the right to choose.
“That’s democracy. It’s not about what I want or what Boris Johnson wants.”
Signalling a new approach, which moves beyond the current impasse of Johnson’s repeated refusal to countenance a second vote, the roadmap states that if the SNP takes office after May, it will request from the UK government a section 30 order, which is part of the Scotland Act 1998 which allows Holyrood to pass laws normally reserved to Westminster.
The document states that “there could be no moral or democratic justification for denying that request” and that if the UK government did adopt such a position it would be “unsustainable both at home and abroad”.
It adds that, if agreement is not forthcoming from Westminster, the SNP government will introduce and pass a bill allowing a “legal referendum” to take place after the pandemic, and will “vigorously oppose” any legal challenge from the UK government.
Sturgeon’s comments come as four-nation polling for the Sunday Times reveals a majority of voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland want referendums on the break-up of Britain.
Sturgeon told Marr: “The polls now show that a majority of people in Scotland want independence. If the SNP win the Scottish election in a few months’ time on proposition of giving the people that choice, then what democrat could rightly stand in the way of that?”
The plan has been welcomed by those within the SNP who have pushed for an alternative strategy on independence, rather than relying on Westminster permission to go ahead with a second vote. Some believe that it would be possible for Holyrood to hold a consultative referendum without overreaching its powers.
Asked by Marr about the ongoing Holyrood inquiry into her government’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against the former first minister Alex Salmond, Sturgeon insisted that she did not mislead the Scottish parliament as her predecessor has suggested.
She said: “There are false conspiracy theories being spun about this … by Alex Salmond, by people around him, you can draw your own conclusions about that … but what is forgotten in all of that are the women who brought forward these complaints.
“At the time I became aware of this I tried hard not to interfere with what was going on and not to do anything that would see these swept aside. The Scottish government made mistakes in the investigation of that and that’s part of the subject of the inquiry, but I didn’t collude with Alex Salmond and I didn’t conspire against him.”
On Friday, in an unprecedented move, the Scottish parliament ordered the country’s prosecution service to release key evidence, including private messages from senior Scottish National party officials and documents about the leak of allegations that Salmond had sexually harassed two civil servants – allegations he denies.