‘Waste of time and money!’ Even Sturgeon’s former aide admits IndyRef2 plan is illegal

Scotland would come back to UK after independence says expert

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The SNP leader is continuing with her campaign to hold another vote on Scottish independence on October 19, 2023 – more than nine years after the first referendum ended in defeat. Nicola Sturgeon is ploughing ahead with her plan despite fierce resistance from the UK Government, who are insisting the result from the referendum in 2014 must be honoured. Tory leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have also both warned they will do everything in their power to prevent another vote when one of them becomes the next Prime Minister.

The Scottish Government is trying to legislate in Holyrood for a second vote, with the Lord Advocate asking the UK Supreme Court to rule whether a draft Bill is within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.

But Alex Bell, a former Scottish Government special adviser who was also a negotiator of the Edinburgh Agreement on the 2014 independence referendum, wrote in the Sunday Times: “The Scottish Government’s legal challenge on holding IndyRef2 is a waste of time and money.

“Since 2007, Nicola Sturgeon has known the law: it is Westminster’s call. Pursuing the matter after 15 years in office is a piece of theatre designed to disguise how the SNP has failed nationalists.

“The legal terms are set out in the Scotland Act of 1998. Despite further legislation on Scottish powers in 2012 and 2016, the section relevant to holding a referendum has never been amended.

“To hold a referendum, outwith the Scottish parliament’s powers, requires consent from Westminster.”

Mr Bell also said a referendum bill promised by then-First Minister Alex Salmond and his deputy Ms Sturgeon under the 2007-11 SNP Government was never published.

He said: “One of the sagas of the 2007-11 Government was about a referendum bill.

“Promised by Alex Salmond, then the First Minister, and his deputy Nicola Sturgeon as a certainty, it never emerged.

“The reason was simple. Advice from officials, including informal legal advice, was that Holyrood’s lawyers would reject the bill on the ground that it went beyond the competence of the parliament.”

Following the SNP’s landslide election victory in 2011, the former aide said the Scottish Government did not believe it could proceed with a referendum bill.

Officials had advised a “roundabout question” on whether parliament should have the power to demand independence was considered – but there was also a risk of it being ruled illegal.

The matter only developed in 2012 when David Cameron, who was Prime Minister at the time, agreed that a referendum could be held.

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Mr Bell wrote: “Put simply, the 2014 vote happened because the various players followed the law.

“The law has not changed since, and neither has the advice.

“The Lord Advocate has published her opinion that legislation permitting a lawful referendum requires Westminster consent.”

Earlier this week, both Tory leadership candidates categorically ruled out any chance of allowing a second independence referendum to happen if they become Prime Minister.

“If I am elected as prime minister, I will not allow another independence referendum,” Ms Truss said to applause from the crowd at a Tory hustings event.

“At the time of the 2014 referendum, it was agreed by the SNP that it was a once-in-a-generation referendum.

“I believe in politicians keeping their promises, and Nicola Sturgeon should keep her promise.”

Mr Sunak told Tory members at the event he “can’t imagine the circumstances” in which he would allow a vote.

He added: “We live in a union which is, of course, there by consent and by democracy and I accept that, but I just don’t think that anybody thinks that now or any time in the near future is remotely the time to focus on this.”

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