West­min­ster warned over in­de­pen­dence com­pla­cency

●Lack of ‘panic’ about polls that show sup­port for Scots split is on the rise

The Scotsman - - FRONT PAGE - By PARIS GOURTSOYAN­NIS and GINA DAVID­SON

Down­ing Street is too com­pla­cent about the dan­ger of a se­cond in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum, a se­nior White­hall of­fi­cial has said, with a lack of “panic” at the high­est lev­els about the strength­en­ing trend in polling on Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence.

The last three polls on Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence vot­ing in­ten­tions have put sup­port for leav­ing the UK at be­tween 49 per cent and 52 per cent, when the don’t knows are re­moved.

An on­line poll at the start of Au­gust con­ducted by Lord Ashcroft also put in­de­pen­dence in the lead for the first time in two-and-a-half years, while polling ex­pert Pro­fes­sor Sir John Cur­tice has said “it can no longer be pre­sumed that Scot­land would vote No again in an in­de­pen­dence bal­lot”.

A dossier of Scot­tish cov­er­age of the Ashcroft opin­ion poll – con­ducted in the wake of Boris John­son’s first visit as Prime Min­is­ter to Scot­land – was sent to No 10 Down­ing Street by for­mer Scot­tish Tory leader Ruth David­son. It also saw al­most half of those polled – 47 per cent – say they wanted a se­cond in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum in the next two years.

How­ever, when asked if there was panic in Down­ing Street at the shift in at­ti­tudes to in­de­pen­dence, the White­hall source re­sponded: “There isn’t nearly enough panic.”

They added: “The 55-45 re­sult in 2014 was close enough.”

An SNP spokesper­son said: “No won­der the Tories are pan­ick­ing – they’re now haem­or­rhag­ing sup­port in Scot­land. The Tories are clearly rat­tled by the ris­ing tide of sup­port for in­de­pen­dence.

“That trend is only set to in­crease with the UK Gov­ern­ment show­ing ab­so­lutely no sign it is pre­pared to lis­ten to Scot­land’s demo­cratic wishes.”

Con­cerns raised be­fore Mr John­son be­came Prime Min­is­ter that his Brexit pol­icy would prove di­vi­sive

within the UK na­tions have been re­flected in the most re­cent polling and in re­search by the Cen­tre on Con­sti­tu­tional Change, which showed Brexit was “dis­lodg­ing the long-held red lines about the [UK] Union”.

It found that a ma­jor­ity of Con­ser­va­tive vot­ers in Eng­land would pre­fer to press ahead with Brexit even if it led to Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence and the col­lapse of the North­ern Ir­ish peace process.

Mr John­son has stuck with the hard line es­tab­lished at the start of the year by his pre­de­ces­sor Theresa May, who said she would not grant per­mis­sion for a se­cond in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum if pow­ers were re­quested by the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment. Last month the Prime Min­is­ter also told jour­nal­ists at a re­cep­tion in Down­ing Street that “it was a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion vote”.

His“mus­cu­lar union­ism” has been re­flected by a num­ber of Scot­tish Tory MPS, in­clud­ing An­drew Bowie, who last week was crit­i­cised for claim­ing the UK had “given away” Bute House and Ed­in­burgh Castle to Scot­land as part of the de­vo­lu­tion set­tle­ment, brand­ing it a “mis­take”.

The MP for West Aberdeen­shire and Kin­car­dine la­belled the castle one of the “fan­tas­tic as­sets” of the United King­dom but lamented the fact it can no longer be used for UK Gov­ern­ment func­tions.

How­ever, the castle was pre­vi­ously part of the Crown Es­tate and was never “owned” by the UK Gov­ern­ment.

How­ever, one con­ces­sion re­port­edly made by Down­ing Street to its “Union unit” – led by a for­mer Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive Party aide – is an agree­ment with the Scot­tish Tories not to com­ment on what con­di­tions would “trig­ger” per­mis­sion for a se­cond in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum.

The in­ter­nal Tory agree­ment came af­ter the Labour Party row over the sum­mer about its stance on the grant­ing of a Sec­tion 30 Or­der – leg­is­la­tion which would give Holy­rood the power to stage a ref­er­en­dum – with the UK and Scot­tish par­ties at odds over the is­sue.

SNP West­min­ster leader Ian Black­ford yes­ter­day put more pres­sure on Labour over the mat­ter, say­ing his party would only sup­port a Jeremy Cor­byn gov­ern­ment, in the re­sult of a hung par­lia­ment, if a Sec­tion 30 or­der was granted.

He told the BBC’S Sun­day Pol­i­tics Scot­land pro­gramme that the SNP would not form a coali­tion with Mr Cor­byn’s party but would be pre­pared to work with it on a “pro­gres­sive ba­sis”.

The MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber was asked if sup­port for a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment would de­pend on the SNP be­ing given a Sec­tion 30 or­der.

Asked if there were dis­cus­sions about con­di­tions of co­op­er­a­tion with Labour, he replied that Mr Cor­byn had to “re­spect democ­racy”. Mr Black­ford claimed: “We have that man­date there. If the peo­ple in a West­min­ster elec­tion re­in­force that by vot­ing for the SNP, he has to re­spect that it should be the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment that de­ter­mines when a ref­er­en­dum is called, not a gov­ern­ment in West­min­ster.

“It is ab­so­lutely the case that ev­ery­thing that was seen go­ing on at West­min­ster demon­strates that the peo­ple of Scot­land have got to have the right to de­ter­mine their own fu­ture – that means that we have to have that Sec­tion 30 sit­ting in the hands of the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment.”

Scot­tish Labour leader Richard Leonard said last month that the party would op­pose a se­cond ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence in its next UK man­i­festo. It came af­ter Mr Cor­byn said he would “de­cide at the time” whether to ap­prove a Sec­tion 30 or­der, and Shadow Chan­cel­lor John Mcdon­nell say­ing a Labour gov­ern­ment would not stand in the way of a ref­er­en­dum if there was sup­port for one in the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment.

Ni­cola Stur­geon is ex­pected to re­quest pow­ers for a se­cond ref­er­en­dum un­der Sec­tion 30 of the Scot­land Act be­fore the end of the year. She had pre­vi­ously said a ref­er­en­dum should be held in 2021, but re­cently shifted that date to 2020 and the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment is steer­ing a Ref­er­en­dums Bill through the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment.

The SNP will hold its au­tumn con­fer­ence next Sun­day, with the First Min­is­ter un­der pres­sure from ac­tivists and sev­eral elected mem­bers to keep up the mo­men­tum to­wards an­other vote on in­de­pen­dence.

SNP MP An­gus Macneil, one of those who have called for a swift move to an­other ref­er­en­dum, said the UK Gov­ern­ment would be un­able to re­sist de­mands for a se­cond in­de­pen­dence poll in­def­i­nitely.

“Indyref2 is com­ing and the Tories know this,” he said. “They have shown the cur­rent UK Union to be a mess and they have made it worse.

“Just about ev­ery prom­ise they made to the Scot­tish peo­ple in 2014 – like vote No to re­main in the EU – was a lie. They are in a panic be­cause they know they will not fool the Scot­tish peo­ple twice.” Mr Black­ford also hit out at the Prime Min­is­ter’s “bluff and blus­ter” over the Court of Ses­sion case and his claim that the UK would come out of the EU no mat­ter what. He said if the Gov­ern­ment did not com­ply with the Benn Act and ask for an ex­ten­sion, there were “things we can do.

“All the op­po­si­tion par­ties, in­clud­ing the Tory rebels, have a ma­jor­ity so we can dic­tate the agenda and bring for­ward leg­is­la­tion,” he said. “We’ve gamed out all of this and know ex­actly how we can do this. The ul­ti­mate would be to bring down the Gov­ern­ment through a vote of no con­fi­dence.”

He said a gen­eral elec­tion should be held be­fore an­other EU ref­er­en­dum, be­cause to ask an emer­gency gov­ern­ment to “sit in of­fice for a num­ber of months and even pass a bud­get, that’s a tall or­der”.

But he added: “I would say to ev­ery­one, we’ve come a long way, we’ve got the Benn Act in place but a Prime Min­is­ter in of­fice we can’t trust. Let’s go the ex­tra mile, whether its Jeremy Cor­byn or any­one else, let’s put some­one in of­fice to send that let­ter.”

Mr Cor­byn is set to meet Mr Black­ford and op­po­si­tion lead­ers in West­min­ster to scru­ti­nise the Gov­ern­ment’s new Brexit pro­pos­als to­day, and de­cid­ing on steps to “hold the Gov­ern­ment to ac­count”.

Be­fore the meet­ing, Mr Cor­byn said: “Labour is con­tin­u­ing to lead cross­party ef­forts to pre­vent a dam­ag­ing no deal. To­day’s meet­ing will give us the chance to scru­ti­nise the Gov­ern­ment’s pro­pos­als to­gether.”

“We’ve gamed out all of this and know ex­actly how we can do this. The ul­ti­mate would be to bring down the Gov­ern­ment through a vote of no con­fi­dence.”

IAN BLACK­FORD

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