Date set for vote

Referendum on 19.10.23 | Poll will be ‘lawful’ | Pound falls

Nicola Sturgeon: ‘a referendum will be lawful’

Nicola Sturgeon today announced that a referendum on Scottish independence will be held ‘lawfully’ on 19 October 2023.

The First Minister told MSPs that a Scottish Independence Referendum Bill was being published today and that she will be writing to Boris Johnson offering to negotiate on a section 30 order to allow a vote to go ahead.

On the assumption he will not agree, Ms Sturgeon has asked the lord advocate, Scotland’s top law officer, to ask the Supreme Court if the Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate for a consultative referendum on independence. The lord advocate has agreed and will be lodging the request today.

Ms Sturgeon said the voters had given the SNP a clear mandate to hold such a poll. Declaring “now is the time for independence”, she said she was “not willing to allow Scottish democracy to be a prisoner of Boris Johnson or any other Prime Minister.”

However, she insisted that she would not leave herself exposed to holding an illegal poll.

“Respect for the rule of law means a referendum must be lawful,” said Ms Sturgeon. “That for me is a matter of principle. The Referendum must be lawful. It must be established as a matter of fact, not just opinion, otherwise opposition parties will continue to case doubt on the process.”

She accepted that an unlawful referendum “would not be deliverable or recognised internationally”.

If the court rules the vote illegal, the SNP will fight the next UK general election on the single question: should Scotland be an independent country?

Ms Sturgeon said: “Scotland will have its say on independence. I want the process set in train today to lead to a lawful constitutional referendum and for that to take place on October 19, 2023.

“That is what we are preparing for, but if the law says that is not possible, the general election will be a de-facto referendum. Either way, the people of Scotland will have their say.”

In a move to avoid the courts being accused blocking the right to self-determination by ruling the referendum illegal, Ms Sturgeon said such a verdict “would be the fault of Westminster legislation, not the court”. 

Her announcement was greeted by a fall in sterling as investors reacted negatively to another year of uncertainty on top of other issues affecting the economy.

Walid Koudmani, chief market analyst at financial brokerage XTB, noted some selling of sterling and said: “The pound remains under severe pressure from the US dollar and euro, mostly in reaction to rising US interest rates and an underperforming UK economy in the previous quarters.

“The last thing needed right now is additional uncertainty from a potential second independence referendum in Scotland, especially when the volatility created from the first indyref is still fresh in the memory.

“That being said, it’s hard to see that Sturgeon’s campaign for a second indy ref being successful given power for such a decision remains in Westminster. As such, any impact on the pound is likely to be limited for the time being.”

Scottish Business UK chief executive Struan Stevenson said: “By choosing to manufacture a pointless vote using £20 million of public funds that we can ill-afford, the Scottish Government is showing itself to be completely out of touch with the needs of business and public service providers alike.

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“By referring the legality of such a consultative referendum to the Supreme Court, the First Minister is once again committing Scotland’s hard-pressed taxpayers to further huge expenditure.

“Breaking up the most successful and longest lasting single market in history by creating a hard border with England, would cause a catastrophic disruption to trade. Wasting time and taxpayers’ money on a fake poll is a shocking self-indulgence on the SNP’s separatist fixation.”

In the Holyrood chamber, Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross, said that the Scottish Conservatives “won’t play Nicola Sturgeon’s games. We won’t take part in a pretend poll when there’s real work to be done.”

Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton described the First Minister’s statement as “an appalling waste of energy and focus”.

He said: “Here we are again and what an appalling waste of energy and focus this is. Frankly I can think of better uses of our time and I am not alone.”

Scottish Labour Leader Anas Sarwar said: “The First Minister gave her game away in this statement – this is actually about general election and the SNP having some relevance in it. It is not actually about the Scottish people.”

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