Scottish independence: will there be a second independence referendum - and what has Boris Johnson said about it?

The First Minister has said it is a matter of ‘when, not if’ indyref2 will go ahead, following the SNP winning a fourth consecutive term at Holyrood

The SNP has vowed to push for a second independence referendum with pro-independence parties holding a majority at Holyrood (Getty Images/Shutterstock)

The SNP’s historic victory in the Scottish Parliament election 2021 has brought the issue of the country’s independence to the forefront of the national psyche again.

Holyrood will have a pro-independence majority, as many of the polls predicted, as although Nicola Sturgeon’s party fell one seat short of an overall majority, eight Scottish Greens MSPs were elected.

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In a phone call with Boris Johnson on Sunday (9 May), following the Conservatives’ gains in the local elections and victory in the Hartlepool by-election, Ms Sturgeon said it was a “matter of when, not if” there will be another vote on Scottish independence.

So, will Scotland have another independence referendum?

Here is everything you need to know.

Why does some of Scotland want independence?

Of course, Scotland already had an independence referendum in September 2014.

It was billed as a “once in a generation vote”, with people in the country given the choice of “Yes” to become independent from the UK or “No” to stay in the Union.

Scottish voters backed staying in the UK by 55 per cent to 45 per cent.

However, the issue of Scottish independence was thrust into the spotlight once again following the 2016 Brexit vote.

While the UK as a whole voted to leave the EU by 52 per cent to 48 per cent, Scottish voters backed the Remain camp by an overwhelming 62 per cent to 38 per cent.

After the UK voted Leave, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP began pushing for another referendum, or “indyref2”.

The argument was that Scotland should be able to take its future into its own hands, rather than being forced to leave the EU “against its will” by the UK’s Conservative government.

The SNP also claim that independence would allow Scotland to rejoin the EU in future.

However, Brexit isn’t the be-all-and-end-all when it comes down to the reasons Scots want independence.

The UK Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis has also bolstered support for independence among Scots, with many feeling the Scottish Government led the response to the pandemic better than Mr Johnson’s cabinet.

Other proponents of independence draw heavily on the argument for self-determination - that Scotland is a distinct nation from the UK and should control its full political authority.

Scotland has also traditionally sat further left than England on the political spectrum, meaning many Scots feel disillusioned by the current Conservative government and its policies.

Furthermore, the SNP is vigorously opposed to nuclear weapons in Scotland, and the UK’s nuclear deterrent is stationed at the Faslane naval base.

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Will there be another referendum?

While the SNP has vowed to push for a second independence referendum with pro-independence parties holding a majority at Holyrood, Boris Johnson has said he would block another vote.

But timing is crucial, and Ms Sturgeon has said she would not propose an immediate vote while the country is in recovery from Covid.

Instead, the SNP has said it intends the vote to be held within the first half of the next five-year term - so another referendum could happen by the end of 2023.

However, under the 1998 Scotland Act, all matters relating to the "Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England" are reserved to Westminster.

Mr Johnson’s government would have to grant the Scottish Government the authority to hold a fresh vote using a “Section 30” order.

The Conservatives argue that that gives them the authority on whether or not Scotland gets to hold a referendum.

Any legislation introduced by the SNP for another vote could be challenged by the UK Government in court.

But Ms Sturgeon has said the Prime Minister would be blocking Scottish democracy, and the will of the people, if he did not allow one to go ahead.

In her phone call with Mr Johnson, the SNP leader told him that another referendum was inevitable once Covid recovery had gotten underway.

Her spokesman said: "The First Minister made clear that her immediate focus was on steering the country through Covid and into recovery, and that a newly elected Scottish Government would work with the UK Government as far as possible on that aim.

"The First Minister also reiterated her intention to ensure that the people of Scotland can choose our own future when the crisis is over, and made clear that the question of a referendum is now a matter of when, not if."

What has Boris Johnson said about another referendum?

Back in January 2020, the Prime Minister refused Ms Sturgeon permission to hold another referendum.

He has repeatedly called the vote in 2014 a “once in a generation” event and has ruled out a fresh one.

A Downing Street statement on the call between the First Minister and Mr Johnson made no reference to another independence referendum.

Instead, Mr Johnson has invited Ms Sturgeon and the leaders of the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales to a summit on recovering from the coronavirus crisis.

And during media interviews on Sunday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove also refused to comment on the matter of Scottish independence.

Asked by Sky News’ Sophy Ridge whether the UK Government would seek to block a second poll in the courts, he said: "No, we're not even going there at the moment."

He added: "To start speculating about this type of legislation or that type of court hearing and all the rest of it, it's just a massive distraction.

"I'm not interested in going down that blind alley."

If Mr Johnson’s administration does say “no” to another referendum, the SNP has said the Scottish Government would push ahead with passing a referendum bill at Holyrood.

Ms Sturgeon has claimed that if Westminster does not challenge the plans in court then it would be a legal vote.

But it’s almost certain that a referendum bill, if passed without explicit permission and opposed by the UK Government, would be referred to the Supreme Court.