The SNP won a fourth term in power during the Scottish elections in May and soon formed an alliance with the Scottish Greens to command a pro-independence majority in Holyrood. Nicola Sturgeon is insisting a referendum could still be held in 2023 – Covid permitting – as promised in the SNP’s manifesto. But Scotland’s First Minister faces huge resistance from Boris Johnson and his UK Government with the Prime Minister refusing to transfer the relevant powers to Holyrood, potentially setting up an explosive court battle over the issue.
Recent opinion polls have suggested support for independence has plunged from the sustain lead recorded just last year, although a Panelbase survey from September found more than 60 percent of those aged 16 to 34 would vote to leave the UK when undecideds are excluded.
Ms Sturgeon remains undeterred by the pressure to drop her independence demands, and said: “I can’t look ahead and tell you exactly how this constitutional impasse is going to resolve itself.
“But it will resolve itself — and it will resolve itself on the side of democracy, because actually, the alternative is pretty unthinkable.
“I’ve got democracy on my side. If they think it’s about playing a waiting game, I’ve probably got time on my side as well.
“You look at the demographics of the support for independence — well, I’m not sure that’s going to get you out of this conundrum.”
She added in her interview with the Financial Times: “The consequences of not being independent are much, much greater than they arguably were in 2014.
“Will it be worth it? Absolutely. We face change and transition now, whatever we do.”
Last month, the Scottish Government ramped up its push for independence by announcing it would resume work on a “detailed prospectus” that would ensure a referendum debate would be “fully informed”.
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Critics of independence have warned the huge costs and complexities of leaving the UK would play a significant role in any referendum, but Ms sturgeon is trying to counter the arguments by highlighting what she claims are higher costs from Brexit.
She said: “We’ve just had freedom of movement taken away from us.
“Immigration rules are tighter. So our ability to bring people into the country is severely constrained and that is going to be an absolute stranglehold on the ability of the Scottish economy to grow.”
The SNP leader admitted to frustration at her reluctance from some within her own party to say when legislation for a referendum would be put before the Scottish parliament, insisting uncertainty around the Covid pandemic means it is correct to retain “a degree of flexibility”.
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She said: “As we come out of this winter into the spring — with, I hope, a lot more certainty about the Covid situation being a bit more in the rear-view mirror — we start to take more concrete decisions around all of this.”
Ms Sturgeon also fired a fresh warning at Mr Johnson, adding: “If you’re saying that there is no legitimate, democratic, constitutional route for Scotland to choose independence, where does that leave us?
“The union suddenly is no longer what it has always been, a voluntary, consensual union of nations.”
But in a bitter blow to her plans, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has ruled out a second vote on Scottish independence and said another one would not take place for at least 25 years.
Speaking to STV, he added: “The trigger in my mind, and I look to the situation in Northern Ireland for instance, if 60 per cent of people wanted a referendum and that position was sustained for over 12 months, then I can see there would be a desire for a referendum.
“But [a referendum] can’t come every five or six or seven years.
“The SNP would only have to win once if we just keep asking the question.”