Independence Referendum (Publication of Draft Bill)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 17th March 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative

1. I wish Michael Russell well in his retirement. I am sure that he will still be very actively involved in the political scene in Scotland. We recognise the contributions to the Parliament that he has made over a number of years.

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on when it will publish the draft bill for an independence referendum announced in its programme for government for 2020-21. (S5O-05122)

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I thank Mr Balfour for his kind words.

The Scottish Government will publish the draft independence referendum bill as announced in the programme for government before the pre-election recess begins.

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative

Does the cabinet secretary not accept that it is completely irresponsible timing to bring forward that bill when the priority needs to be recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic and putting all our energy into getting businesses back on their feet, supporting people into work and investing in our schools to help children to catch up, with so much lost teaching time?

What is the cabinet secretary’s number 1 priority: Scotland’s recovery from the tragic effects of the pandemic, or his party’s obsession with indyref 2?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

My urgent priority—as it should be for all of us in the chamber—is to ensure that Scotland recovers from the pandemic. That has to be done according to what the Scottish people choose rather than what Boris Johnson chooses—that is the big difference. If we look at what will take place, I would rather move forward from the pandemic and rebuild Scotland in a way that is commensurate with the people of Scotland’s urgent necessities rather than Boris Johnson’s obsessions.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We have two supplementaries to that question.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

Ian Blackford has said that another independence referendum could take place this year. He cited the cabinet secretary’s comment that there should be six months between the legislation and the referendum. Does the cabinet secretary agree with Mr Blackford that there could—or should—be a referendum this year? If the urgent priority is to focus on the national recovery from Covid, surely that should be the focus of the next session of Parliament.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I welcome Mr Smyth to his new role as his party’s spokesperson on the constitution. However, this is “Hail and farewell”, as far as I can see, because I do not think that I will have an opportunity to take questions from him again.

Unfortunately, I start by disagreeing with Mr Smyth. He will have heard what I said in response to Mr Balfour. The urgent necessity is for Scotland to build forward from the pandemic in a way that will give it a sustainable future. That cannot be done by a United Kingdom Government, and I am disappointed that the Scottish Labour Party still believes that it can.

Photo of Gail Ross Gail Ross Scottish National Party

I, too, add my thanks and wish the best of luck to Mike Russell, who has been a great support to me over the past five years and before that. I am sure that I will see him before we both go.

The report of the Smith commission included a clear commitment that

“nothing in this report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country in the future should the people of Scotland so choose”.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that all parties in the chamber should honour the commitment that they signed up to, and that they should not stand in the way of people’s right to have a say over their future?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I thank Gail Ross for her remarks. I wish her the best, too. We have been friends over a long period, and I am sure that we will continue to be so as we both go on to different things.

Gail Ross rightly quoted the report of the Smith commission, which said:

“nothing in this report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country in the future should the people of Scotland so choose”.

I emphasise the words

“should the people of Scotland so choose”— not the Prime Minister, the UK Government, Douglas Ross or the Scottish Conservatives, but the people of Scotland. That is why the Scottish Government is clear that if there should be majority support for an independence referendum in the next parliamentary term there could then be no moral or democratic justification whatsoever for any UK Government, or any of the aforementioned, to ignore the rights and will of the people of Scotland.