In January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected the Scottish Government’s call for a second independence referendum, stating that such a move would “continue the political stagnation the country has seen for the past decade”. Despite the rejection, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is still determined to hold Indyref2 in 2020. This weekend, the SNP leader announced that she would be asking the Electoral Commission to formally “re-test” the question “should Scotland be an independent country?”
But in a letter to Sir John Holmes, the chairman of the Electoral Commission, seen by the Daily Telegraph, Michael Gove warned the watchdog that it would be a waste of public time and money.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster wrote: “The Electoral Commission of course has an important role in testing the suitability of referendum questions where there is a referendum in prospect.
“However, there is no lawful referendum on Scottish independence in prospect and in view of that, I believe the Scottish Government’s request to you represents a poor use of time, resources and public money and is an exercise designed to persuade Scottish National Party members that a referendum is imminent.”
As a constitutional stand-off between the Prime Minister and Ms Sturgeon now seems inevitable, Lord David Owen claimed that Mr Johnson will ultimately back down to the SNP’s demands – but not any time soon.
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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
The former Foreign Secretary and SDP leader explained: “I totally believe in the Union.
“And I would be very surprised if the Government agrees to another referendum before the next election.
“It will come after the next election – so in four or five years.
“The former Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, who is now on trial, made it absolutely clear in the 2014 referendum campaign that it was a generational question.
“He used the word.
“Now, you can argue about what is a generation… Certainly 10 years. I would say even 15 to 20.”
Lord Owen noted: “You don’t have a referendum when you think you can win it.
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Lord David Owen
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove
“Referendums are rare things and are largely for constitutional issues.
“We were asked about EU membership in 1975 and then in 2016. That is a long time.
“You don’t have referendums on constitutional issues every five or six years.”
The prominent Brexiteer also argued that the Government should start moving towards a different attitude to Scotland – as the SNP must “face up to reality and have a proper and honest debate”.
He said: “If they really want to leave, eventually, they must be allowed to leave.
“But they must face up to reality and have a proper and honest debate.
“Are they going to be allowed in the EU?
“Will Spain? With all the problems they face in Barcelona?
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Former SNP leader Alex Salmond
“You know, there are five European countries that still do not allow Kosovo to become independent. They are afraid of legitimising the separation from countries.”
The peer added: “And let’s not forget Belgium.
“They sit on a very uneasy arrangement between two parts of Belgium, and they are not going to legitimise the splitting of a country.
“Once you allow it, you open up a can of worms.”
New members can only be allowed into the EU through a unanimous vote from the existing member states.
Moreover, Scotland could also be rejected by Brussels due to its current deficit of seven percent of GDP, unless it adopted a strict austerity programme from the EU as well as potentially adopting the euro.