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Former PM's intervention

Sir John Major proposes two-stage indyref ballot

Sir John Major

Sir John Major offers alternative on independence referendum (pic: Terry Murden)

Former prime minister Sir John Major has called for Scotland’s independence debate to be settled by holding two votes.

Sir John, who also challenged Boris Johnson’s policy on Brexit, said a way through the arguments over the constitution had to be found that may settle the issue.

“The Westminster Government could agree for an independence referendum to take place, on the basis of two referenda.

“The first to vote upon the principle of negotiations, and the second upon the outcome of them,” he said.

Scottish nationalists described Sir John’s comments as a “wake-up call” for Mr Johnson who has refused to countenance independence or a referendum.

In a speech delivered at the Middle Temple’s 2020 Lecture Series, Sir John said: “In law, the Scots require the approval of the Westminster Government before they can legally hold a new independence referendum.

“But refusing one might help the separatist case, by adding to the list of grievances the Scottish National Party exploit with such skill.

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“The choice for the UK Government is either to agree the referendum can take place – or to refuse to permit it.

“Both options come with great risk. But the lessons of Brexit may offer a way ahead.

“The Westminster Government could agree for an independence referendum to take place, on the basis of two referenda.

“The first to vote upon the principle of negotiations, and the second upon the outcome of them.

“The purpose of the second referendum would be that Scottish electors would know what they were voting for, and be able to compare it to what they now have.

“This did not happen with Brexit: had it done so, there may have been no Brexit.

“Many Scottish voices – and especially business – may support the logic of this: it may focus minds away from a short-term reflex opposition to a perceived English Government, and back to the mutual and long-term virtues of the Union.”

Voters in Scotland chose to remain in the UK by 55% in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has recently again ruled out another ballot taking place for at least another generation, although he would not define that timeframe.

Polls this year have shown an increase in support for separation from the UK.

Brexit concern

In his speech Sir John expressed concern over the UK’s “inflexibility” and “threats” towards the EU, saying they would make future trade “less profitable”.

The government last night said it would seek to re-insert measures removed by the Lords from the Internal Market bill when it returns to the House of Commons.

Sir John, who was an outspoken critic of the UK’s exit from the EU on 31 January, said this “was a slippery slope down which no democratic government should ever travel”.

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