Nicola Sturgeon’s demands came as it emerged that Prime Minister Theresa May is set to tour the UK in a bid to “build consensus” before triggering Article 50, the formal process for leaving the EU, at the end of March.
It was a busy day for the two leaders, both of whom met with respective cabinet colleagues yesterday morning. When Sturgeon emerged from Bute House, she dismissed any talk that she does not have a mandate to hold a referendum.
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There had been reports that May would only agree to a Section 30 order – the process by which Whitehall devolves to Holyrood the legislative power to hold a referendum – if the SNP achieved an outright majority in the Holyrood elections in 2021.
Sturgeon said the vote would have to “take place within a time frame to allow an informed choice to be made when the terms of Brexit are clear, but before the UK leaves the European Union, or shortly afterwards.”
“It should be up to the Scottish Parliament to determine the referendum’s timing, franchise and the question, which, of course, will be open to independent scrutiny and testing as it was last time,” she said.
“Scotland’s referendum should be built on the principles of democracy, mandate and precedent, all of which should be observed as we move to give the people of Scotland the choice the current political situation demands.
“There should be no strings attached, no blocking mechanisms applied and no Downing Street diktat – Scotland’s referendum must be made in Scotland.
“That was the exact description the UK Government themselves used ahead of the 2014 referendum, and the same principle should apply now.”
Sturgeon later took to Twitter, writing: “Tory vote in GE2015 – 36.9 per cent, SNP constituency vote in SP2016 – 46.5 per cent. Trading mandates does not put PM on strong ground.
“In addition, I was elected as FM on a clear manifesto commitment re #scotref. The PM is not yet elected by anyone.”
Yesterday afternoon in the Commons, May expressed annoyance with the SNP leader, accusing her of “constitutional game-playing” and creating “uncertainty and division”.
The Prime Minister also chided MPs who referred to Brexit as “divorce”.
In words that may come back to haunt her during the independence referendum campaign, May said: “I prefer not to use that term with regard to the European Union, because, often, when people get divorced, they do not have a good relationship afterwards.
“Honourable Members need to stop looking at this as simply coming out of the European Union and see the opportunity for building a new relationship with the European Union, as that is what we will be doing.”
The Scottish Parliament will spend Tuesday and Wednesday of next week debating the request for a Section 30 order, with a vote on the issue also taking place on the Wednesday.
With the Scottish Greens confirming they will back the SNP, 69 of the 129 MSPs at Holyrood will support the call.
The SNP’s www.ref.scot fundraising website, launched immediately after the First Minister’s speech, on Monday, had raised more than £228,000, by 6pm last night, as supporters flocked to fund the upcoming campaign.
The number of signatures on a petition on the House of Commons website calling for the referendum not to take place stood at 70,000, crawling. It needs to reach 100,000 signatures to force a debate.
Elsewhere, at a rambling press conference held by Scotland in Union, the former Labour MSP Graeme Pearson said people who support independence saw the rest of the country as racist. Launching the organisation’s Project Listen initiative, Pearson said: “Conversation by conversation, we hope to persuade our fellow Scots that the best future for us all is to be part of something bigger.
“I do not recognise our opponents’ description of the UK. They see it as a foreign land full of Tories, racists and people who look down on Scotland.
A spokesman for the SNP said: “Graeme Pearson is simply making things up – and is completely hypocritical considering Sadiq Khan branded supporters of independence as bad as racists. People in Scotland will have strong bonds with people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland regardless of the constitutional settlement. The issue is whether Scotland should be able to determine its own future or be at the mercy of a Tory Government we never voted for.
“It’s hardly a surprise that Graeme Pearson and his band of ultra- Unionists are opposed to giving the people of Scotland that choice.”