THE Tories were accused of “running scared” of the Scottish people last night, after David Mundell and Ruth Davidson refused to set out an “arbitrary” timetable of when the UK Government might allow Scots to hold a vote on independence.
Theresa May’s two main representatives north of the Border held a press conference just an hour-and-a-half after the Prime Minister politely declined Nicola Sturgeon’s kind offer of a second referendum.
In her statement, May had said, simply: “I say to the SNP: now is not the time.”
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Mundell and Davidson refused to be drawn on when the right time might be, only saying that it should be at some point in the distant future, after Brexit, after any transitional deal, once powers have been repatriated from Brussels to Westminster and then to Holyrood.
In effect, the two Tories were saying the next independence referendum should take place when Scots have had a chance to see what Brexit is like, like getting the first month free in a Netflix subscription.
“We’re not getting bogged down in arbitrary dates or somehow constructing a shadow referendum campaign that could go on for years,” Mundell said.
“What we’re saying is that a specific proposal has been brought forward suggesting asking people to choose Scotland’s constitutional future at a time when people in Scotland could not make a fair assessment of alternatives. That request is being declined.”
Davidson added: “We reject conclusively the timetable for a referendum set out by the Scottish Government.
“For a key reason – because it is unfair to Scottish voters. We have just come through a referendum campaign when a key complaint among many people was that they did not have the necessary information to help them make an informed decision. If we were to keep to the First Minister’s timetable, this is exactly what would happen in Scotland, too. On the most important political decision a country can make, we would be voting blind.
“If the SNP insists on pressing ahead, we will argue that a referendum cannot happen when the Scottish people have not been given the opportunity to see how our new relationship with the European Union is working. And until there is clarity over the alternative.
“And we will maintain that it should not take place when there is no clear public or political consent for it to happen.”
Around eight months ago, Davidson had told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland that “constitutionally the UK Government shouldn’t block [a referendum], no”.
Asked what had changed, she replied: “The UK Government is rejecting the request based on the criteria that were met at the last election not being met now.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson later suggested the debate and vote in Holyrood next Tuesday and Wednesday be put off.
The SNP disagreed.
But Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “There absolutely should not be another independence referendum until after Brexit. People cannot be asked to make a decision about the future of our 300-year old Union in the dark.
“If after Brexit we have that clarity and the people of Scotland want a referendum on leaving the UK, then it isn’t the job of the UK Government to stand in the way of that.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Scottish Liberal Democrats are opposed to a divisive second referendum. It is not the right time, there is not public demand for one, and there is not a proper mandate for one.”
But Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer said: ‘’Today’s comments underline the contemptuous attitude the Tories have toward Scotland.’’ SNP Depute Leader Angus Robertson is expected to say that the Tories are running scared of the people’s choice as he opens the SNP Spring Conference in Aberdeen today. Robertson, who is also the party’s Westminster leader, will say: “Our conference will underline our party’s priorities – education, growing the economy, investing in the NHS and protecting public services.
“We will also show the trust we place in the people of Scotland.
“It is clear from the PM’s panicked response to the Scottish Government’s decision to rightly, give people in Scotland a choice over Scotland’s future, that the Tories are simply scared of the people’s choice.
“The Tories' argument is not about process, it is about their desperate desire to prevent anyone having the chance to reject the hard-right Brexit that they are so wedded to.
“The truth is it should not be for either Theresa May or the Scottish Government to decide Scotland’s future: that choice belongs to the parliament and the people of Scotland and it is one this party will never shy away from.”