Scots can have another referendum if 60 percent want one, says UK minister

LOCKERBIE, Scotland — A second Scottish independence referendum could take place if polling consistently shows 60 percent of Scots desire a fresh vote, according to a senior U.K. Cabinet minister.

The Scottish National Party has pushed for a second independence referendum since they lost a 2014 vote. They were emboldened earlier this year after pro-independence parties won a majority of seats in May’s Scottish parliamentary election and said a second referendum should take place in the “early part” of the current parliament, due to last for five years.

The U.K. government and Prime Minister Boris Johnson have consistently rebuffed calls for any new referendum, though the Scottish government has indicated that following May’s election result, they will press on with a referendum bill in the Scottish parliament, risking an extended legal battle with Westminster. Following the 2014 vote, former Prime Minister David Cameron insisted the debate was “settled for a generation” and his successor Theresa May later said “now is not the time” to rerun the vote.

But in an interview with POLITICO, Johnson’s Scotland Secretary Alister Jack suggested for the first time what it would take for the U.K. government to grant a second vote.

Earlier in August, Jack’s fellow Cabinet minister Michael Gove — who is in charge of Union policy — told the Sunday Mail that “if it is the case that there is clearly a settled will in favor of a referendum, then one will occur.”

Asked in reference to Gove’s comments to outline what he felt would show there was a “settled will” for a new referendum, Jack pointed to a figure of “60 percent” of Scots.

“If you consistently saw 60 percent of the population wanting a referendum — not wanting independence but wanting a referendum [to take place] — and that was sustained over a reasonably long period, then I would acknowledge that there was a desire for a referendum,” Jack said. “Anyone can see that.

“But that’s not where we are and it’s not how I perceive things to be,” he added. “I think I’m broadly where the public are, which is that now is not the time to be having a referendum. We’ve had one, we’ve made our decision, let’s get on and rebuild the economy and rebuild people’s lives.”

After 20 consecutive opinion polls between summer 2020 and spring 2021 indicated a lead for the “Yes” side, more recent independence polls have largely shown a small lead in favor of Scotland remaining in the U.K. In the most recent poll measuring opinion on the timing of a second referendum, Scots were split by 42 percent to 40 percent in favor of holding a referendum in the next five years.

The SNP are expected to kick off a renewed pro-independence push in the fall, having this month signed a power-sharing deal with fellow pro-independence party, the Scottish Greens. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the deal had made it “harder and indeed impossible on any democratic basis” for the U.K. government to rebuff her demands for another referendum.

“If this deal is implemented, then we will have a majority government effectively that supports an independence referendum,” she said.

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