New Scottish independence bill published

A draft bill giving Scotland the ability to reconsider the question of independence before the UK leaves the EU has been published for consultation.

Formally unveiled by Constitution Secretary Derek Mackay, the document sets out proposals for the rules governing the referendum campaign, the conduct of the poll and the counting of votes.

It says that any future referendum would be held on a similar basis to the 2014 referendum, which saw voters reject independence by 55 per cent to 45 per cent. However, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that the Brexit vote means Scotland should be able to reconsider independence.

It is currently expected that the same straight yes/no question would be used again - which read: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’, but the Scottish government reserves the right to submit a proposal for different wording to the Electoral Commission for independent testing.

Scotland voted by 62 per cent to 38 per cent to remain in the EU in June's referendum. Opinion polls have suggested there has not been a major upsurge in support for independence since the Brexit vote, with a narrow majority still in favour of Scotland remaining in the UK.

Sturgeon said: “The damage to jobs and Scotland’s economy that will be caused by Brexit – especially a hard Brexit - is now plain to see. We will continue to work UK wide to seek to avert a hard Brexit and we will also bring forward proposals that seek to protect our place in the single market, even if the rest of the UK leaves.

“However, if we find that our interests cannot be properly or fully protected within a UK context then independence must be one of the options open to us and the Scottish people must have the right to consider it. Any decision on holding a referendum, including the timing of it, would be for the Scottish Parliament to take having considered all the options for Scotland’s future relationship with the EU and the associated impact of being forced to leave against our will.”

Mackay added: “It is important that a referendum on independence, like that in 2014, meets the gold standard in terms of fairness, transparency and propriety.

“We are now publishing the bill for consultation so that it is ready for introduction should the Scottish government decide that seeking the views of the Scottish people on independence is the best or only way to protect Scotland's interests in the wake of the EU referendum. In stark contrast with the UK government, we have a clear plan of action.”