Scottish opposition leaders will refuse to engage with Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to run the next general election as a de facto independence referendum after the first minister said it was the only legal way for Scots to express their will.
After Wednesday unanimous Supreme Court ruling that the Scottish Government cannot hold a second referendum without Westminster’s approval – which four successive prime ministers have refused to give – Sturgeon told a press conference: “We must and we will find another democratic, legal and constitutional means by which the Scottish people can express their will. In my opinion, it can only be a choice.”
The Scottish National Party leader later spoke to a pro-independence rally outside Holyrood Parliament, telling the crowd that the court’s judgment “made clear that Britain is not a voluntary partnership between nations”.
But Sturgeon faced immediate challenges to her election plan when opposition votes across the political spectrum rejected it on Thursday morning, while voices within the pro-independence movement questioned how it could work in practice.
Asked how Labor would react if it won the next Westminster general election, but the SNP won more than 50% of the vote in ScotlandScottish Labor deputy leader Jackie Baillie told BBC Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “I don’t want to engage in hypotheticals because the reality is I don’t think there is that support for independence in the country. Only four out of the last 29 polls have suggested a majority for a referendum.”
Pointing to the recent surge in support for her party in Scotland, which has pushed the Scottish Conservatives into third place behind the SNP, Baillie added: “People across Scotland are realizing that if they want change they will vote for a Labor government , that will deliver them in a cost of living crisis, put the NHS back on the road to recovery and focus on jobs and the economy in the way the SNP have not because their only obsession is independence.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross told the same programme: “It’s not up to politicians to dictate what the public should care about in a general election – it’s up to each party to come up with a range of policies at local and national level . problems … What we have heard from Nicola Sturgeon is that she does not want to go on her domestic record after 15 years of failure.”
On Thursday morning, the Scottish Liberal Democrats also rejected the idea of a single election. Their leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, challenged Sturgeon to spend the £20m budgeted for an independence referendum on supporting those with long-term Covid.
Cole-Hamilton said: “The Scottish Government has suddenly found itself with £20m left over after their embarrassing High Court defeat. That money must be used to deliver the comprehensive treatment and support that people with long-term Covid so desperately need.”
While Sturgeon said she would ask the SNP’s national executive to call a special party conference in the new year to discuss the details of the de facto referendum plan, disagreements are already emerging among other pro-independence parties.
Ross Greer for the Scottish Greens told the BBC his party would “put forward a full slate of candidates and for that matter a vote for the Greens is a vote for independence”.
But Alex Salmond’s Alba party proposed that only one pro-independence candidate should stand in each seat, to channel all independence support to one person.