EDINBURGH â€” Politicians from the ruling pro-independence Scottish National Party have reacted with fury after a senior U.K. Cabinet minister suggested the high bar they would need to clear for Westminster to grant Scotland a second independence referendum.
The SNP have pushed for a second referendum since losing the first one in 2014. Emboldened after pro-independence parties won a majority of seats in Mayâ€™s Scottish parliamentary elections, they have said a ballot should take place in the â€œearly partâ€ of the current five-year parliament.
The U.K. government and Prime Minister Boris Johnson have consistently rebuffed calls for any new referendum, though the Scottish government has indicated that they will press on with a referendum bill in the Scottish parliament regardless, risking an extended legal battle with Westminster.
But in an interview with POLITICO Thursday, Johnsonâ€™s Scotland Secretary Alister Jack suggested a fresh vote on the countryâ€™s future could take place if 60 percent of the population wanted one. It marked the first time a government minister had indicated what it would take for the U.K. to grant a second referendum.
â€œIf you consistently saw 60 percent of the population wanting a referendum â€” not wanting independence but wanting a referendum [to take place] â€” and that was sustained over a reasonably long period, then I would acknowledge that there was a desire for a referendum,â€ Jack said. â€œAnyone can see that.
Responding to reporter questions at a coronavirus briefing Friday, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused Jack of â€œmaking up constitutional rules as he goes along.â€
â€œWe have constitutional rules that are pretty well established in a democracy, that if a party wins an election on a particular proposition they should get to implement that proposition,â€ Sturgeon added.
Her fellow lawmakers agreed.
Stephen Flynn, the MP for Aberdeen South, said that despite winning just 21.9 percent of the vote in Mayâ€™s Scottish parliament election, the Conservatives were â€œtrying to dictate Scotlandâ€™s right to choose.â€ His colleague Douglas Chapman said the pro-independence movement should â€œnot fall into the trap of allowing Westminster to dictate the conditions for a referendum.â€
The SNPâ€™s Mhairi Black added that it â€œwould be undemocratic and unsustainable for the Tories â€¦ to block the democratic right of the people of Scotland to determine their own future.â€ Another SNP MP, John Nicolson, said Jack â€œknows the game is up and should surrender to democracy with a modicum of dignity.â€
Tommy Sheppard, a veteran SNP MP representing Edinburgh, asked: â€œWhat is it about democracy that the U.K. government is so afraid of?â€