Prime Minister rejects poll bid
May says ‘now not the time’ for second referendum
Theresa May turned up the heat in the debate over the constitution by stating that “now is not the time” for a second referendum on Scottish independence.
In a statement issued at lunchtime the prime minister fell short of ruling out holding a referendum at some point. But she said a referendum could make it more difficult to get the best deal for Scotland in the Brexit negotiations.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called for a referendum to be held in the autumn of 2018 or the spring of the following year.
But Mrs May said it would be “unfair” to hold a vote until the UK’s future relationship with the EU is clearer. She said she was continuing to negotiate on behalf of the whole of the UK.
“Nothing is more important to me than seeing our United Kingdom thrive. We have a bright future for us all,” she said
“So when the SNP government say that now is not the time to start talking about a second independence referendum, I say that just at this point all of our energies should be focused on our negotiations with the European Union about our future relationship,” she said.
“To be talking about an independence referendum would I think make it more difficult for us to be able to get the right deal for Scotland and the right deal for the UK.
“More than that it would not be fair to the people of Scotland. Right now we should be working together, not pulling apart. I say to the SNP, now is not the time.”
Ms Sturgeon said she agreed that “now” is not the right time, but said that she was not seeking a vote just now, but blocking a referendum would be a “democratic outrage”.
She added: “It is an argument for independence really in a nutshell, that Westminster thinks it has got the right to block the democratically elected mandate of the Scottish government and the majority in the Scottish Parliament.
“You know history may look back on today and see it as the day the fate of the union was sealed.”
Addressing the media this afternoon Scottish Secretary David Mundell and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson outlined why they felt Ms Sturgeon had erred in announcing her referendum plan this week.
Mr Mundell doubted that the EU talks could be completed in the timeframe proposed by the First Minister.
“We do not believe the Brexit process will be completed by 2019,” he said.
He added: “Scotland is leaving the EU. The pretence that holding an independence referendum would stop that is absurd.”
Ms Davidson said that the proposed timetable for a referendum would be unfair to the Scottish people as they would not be in possession of all the facts about the UK’s future relationship with Europe.
Ms Sturgeon had taken the “wrong course”, she said, adding: “It is not too late to change course.
“The fact is that there are so many other urgent issues that require our attention…from managing the Scottish Parliament’s important new powers over tax and welfare, to the future of our NHS.”
Ms Davidson said: “We reject conclusively the timetable for a referendum set out by the Scottish Government for a key reason – because it is unfair to Scottish voters.
“We have just come through a referendum campaign when a key complaint among many people was that they did not have the necessary information to help them make an informed decision.
“If we were to keep to the First Minister’s timetable, this is exactly what would happen in Scotland, too.
“On the most important political decision a country can make, we would be voting blind.”
Ms Davidson said: “Trying to pretend that she [Ms Sturgeon] must force through an unwanted and divisive referendum is a deceit that is very great indeed and could haunt her.”
What happens next?
The prime minister may be saying “now is not the time”, but that suggests she is not ruling out a referendum at some other time.
MSPs will vote next Wednesday on whether to seek a section 30 order from the UK government, which would be needed to make any referendum legally binding.
The SNP will be able to get support for the order because the Scottish Greens will offer support to ensure a majority.