The Scottish government will continue to press for a repeat of the “gold standard” set by the 2014 independence referendum process, the constitution secretary, Angus Robertson, has said.
But he refused to comment on reports Nicola Sturgeon is planning to announce a “softer” consultative referendum in order to bypass Westminster’s ongoing refusal to grant Holyrood the powers to hold a legal vote.
Speaking on BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show, Robertson said: “These are quite rightly, issues that would need to be announced in the Scottish parliament and first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that she intends to make such an update before the summer recess.
“I’m not going to be able to give you a sneak peek of that announcement, but what I would say is that the preferred route for everybody, given that we have precedent [in 2014], and it worked, [is a section 30 order granted by the UK government, transferring the necessary powers to Holyrood] … If it was possible then, there’s no reason why it isn’t possible now. And it really is for those others who are seeking to block democracy to explain why that is.”
Robertson last week confirmed that the SNP government planned to hold a second referendum next October, as Sturgeon launched the first in a series of papers setting out a refreshed case for independence and trailed her plans for a legally secure alternative route to staging another vote, which is likely to result in lengthy challenges at the UK supreme court.
The Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, said after last week’s announcement he would boycott any “wildcat” referendum, but Sturgeon has always ruled out a Catalan-style poll.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Ciaran Martin, the former UK government constitution director who helped to agree the framework for the 2014 referendum, claimed senior SNP figures were considering a consultative route: “The talk in Edinburgh circles is of a clever legal wheeze where ‘softer’ legislation is drafted; perhaps rather than a referendum on independence, the bill is instead about something like asking the people of Scotland for a mandate to open independence negotiations with the UK. Something like this – often incorrectly described as an advisory referendum – might stand a better chance in court, though plenty of experts are sceptical.”
The UK government has consistently ruled out the prospect of granting a section 30 order, but Sturgeon believes she has an electoral mandate to deliver a referendum with or without Westminster’s agreement after the SNP won its fourth consecutive Holyrood election last May.
The 2014 referendum, which the no side won by 55% to 45%, was called after the then prime minister, David Cameron, agreed to provide a section 30 order because Alex Salmond, the then first minister, had won a landslide Holyrood election victory in 2011.
At the beginning of June, opposition parties urged the Scottish government to “come clean once and for all” about whether it had the power to legislate for a second referendum at Holyrood.
A limited selection of legal advice was published on Tuesday after a lengthy freedom of information battle with the Scotsman newspaper, but the key question of whether the SNP government has been advised that putting forward a bill for a second independence referendum is within the powers of the Scottish parliament was not included in the disclosure.