Independence Referendum (Staffing Resources)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 20th January 2022.

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Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

2. To ask the Scottish Government what staffing resources it has allocated to the preparation work for a new independence referendum. (S6O-00643)

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

Work on the programme for government commitments to hold an independence referendum and develop a prospectus for independence in this session of Parliament is being co-ordinated by the constitution and cabinet directorate. Officials in teams across a range of portfolios will contribute to the work as part of their wider responsibilities to support the Scottish Government. I am pleased that Maurice Golden acknowledges, in his question, that there will be a new independence referendum. We intend that that referendum will be conducted during this session of Parliament.

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

Children’s education has suffered, the national health service is stretched to breaking point and the economy is still fragile. Even the Scottish National Party must recognise that recovering from the pandemic is the real priority for the people of Scotland. Does the cabinet secretary not see that another damaging, disruptive, divisive referendum will put the recovery at risk?

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

I say gently to Maurice Golden, because he is clearly rehearsing the speeches that he was giving during the Scottish Parliament election campaign, that that question has been settled. His party and my party went to the public to ask for their support in an election. His party lost that election. The Scottish National Party and the Scottish Green Party were elected on a mandate to conduct a referendum during this session of Parliament.

Normally in democracies, Opposition parties try to hold the Government to account on delivering what the Government has promised to do in its manifesto. We were elected with a mandate to deliver a referendum, and I look forward to Maurice Golden ensuring that we do just that. I will be happy to deliver on a manifesto promise that we were elected to deliver.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Can the cabinet secretary advise the Parliament how staffing resources allocated to preparing for a new independence referendum compare to the number of staff who are currently dealing with Brexit, more than a year after we left the European Union?

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

As I explained previously, staff from a number of parts of the Scottish Government will be involved in work to prepare for a referendum on independence. To put that in context, civil servants from business areas all over the Scottish Government continue to work on matters resulting from the UK Government’s determination to pursue a hard Brexit against the democratic will of the people of Scotland. Such matters include the estimated £9 billion cut to Scotland’s gross domestic product by 2030 and the damage to Scottish businesses that wish to trade with the EU as a result of their facing all sorts of unnecessary new barriers. That work has, for example, required some 98 separate pieces of secondary legislation alone just to keep the statute law working.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

Just because the Tories have got it wrong does not mean that the SNP has to get it wrong, too.

I cannot believe my ears. I shared a platform with the First Minister throughout the election campaign and I heard her say that she would not push forward with an independence referendum and campaign until the pandemic was over. We know fine well that the virus is still among us, but here we have a minister devoting scarce resources to an independence campaign. What on earth is he thinking?

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

I would have thought that somebody espousing liberalism and democracy would recognise an election result. Governments need to do a great many things, and one of the things that we will do, because we were elected to do so in a democracy, is to conduct a referendum during this session of Parliament. I am sure that Willie Rennie would be at the front of the queue if the preparation work was not being done in the run-up to that referendum.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

I welcome the allocation of resource to honour the SNP’s manifesto commitment to deliver a referendum in this session of Parliament. I welcome, too, the Scottish Government’s programme for government.

I wonder whether those preparations might include looking into whether the better together promises that were made in 2014 have since been honoured.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

I can certainly raise that when we get to that stage of the preparations. I do not think that it will take a long time to research whether the promises and threats that were raised by the better together campaign of the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, who campaigned together, have been broken, because most of them have.

Photo of Collette Stevenson Collette Stevenson Scottish National Party

Can the cabinet secretary advise whether preparation work for an independence referendum will look at how the UK has fared economically and socially in the 21st century, compared to its neighbours in north-west Europe?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Can you be as brief as possible, please, cabinet secretary?

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

I give my colleague an absolute assurance that the answer is yes, and with good reason.