Oh the joys of politics...
The Scottish National party would be prepared to push ahead with a second independence referendum without David Cameron’s permission if the prime minister refuses any future demand to hold one, a senior party source in Westminster has indicated.
The party would be prepared to try to overrule the prime minister and hold an indicative ballot of the Scottish people if it believes it has a political mandate for a referendum but Westminster refuses to allow one.
When talking about whether Cameron would be able to refuse another demand for an independence vote, the senior SNP source claimed that the prime minister would not be able to, adding that “precedent is all”.
Before the general election, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly stressed that another referendum is off the agenda unless there is a “material” change in circumstances. However, there is no clear definition of what this means and the SNP has several options that might pave the way for it to argue it has a mandate for another.
Possible reasons include if Cameron resists the SNP’s demands for greater devolution of powers, if the UK votes to leave the European Union or withdraw from the European convention on human rights, or if the SNP wins a decisive victory at the Holyrood elections in 2016 having expressed a desire for another referendum in its manifesto.
On Wednesday, Sturgeon separately indicated that the Scottish people could demand another independence referendum if Cameron does not agree to her call for more powers for the Scottish parliament. She also said the prime minister cannot “rule out a referendum against the will of the people”.
The subject is likely to be the matter of discussion at a meeting between Sturgeon and Cameron on Friday, at which the first minister will present the prime minister with a shopping list of demands including control over the minimum wage, national insurance contributions, welfare, business taxes and equality policy.
The SNP source said that the party believes a second referendum will happen and that it would be won decisively if it took place tomorrow, despite last year’s vote being billed as a way of settling the issue for a generation. It “only has to be won once” and the last referendum was lost only because of the Labour former prime minister Gordon Brown’s intervention, the source added.
A spokesman for Sturgeon said: “These claims are totally wrong – there are no such plans. The position is crystal clear – the general election was not a mandate for another referendum. And there will only be another referendum if and when the people of Scotland back such a proposal at a Scottish parliament election.
“It is not for David Cameron or any other single politician to try and dictate what Scotland’s future should be – it will always be in the hands of the people.”
The issue of whether there will be another referendum has taken centre stage since the SNP won a landslide victory in Scotland at the general election.
Cameron has definitively ruled out allowing another poll since the election, saying “there isn’t going to be one”, but the SNP appears to have been emboldened by the fact it won 56 out of 59 Scottish constituencies.
The Conservatives have promised to devolve more powers to Scotland but Cameron is maintaining he is willing to go no further than the proposals published by the Smith commission, offering partial responsibility for tax raising. Sturgeon is pushing for full fiscal responsibility, while acknowledging that will take a number of years. She said earlier this week that Cameron “has to” discuss the matter.
Alex Salmond, the former first minister and previous SNP leader, said last week that the tidal wave of support for his party left Cameron with “no legitimacy whatsoever” in Scotland.
In a move that will do nothing to help relations between the SNP and Conservatives, the prime minister on Thursday gave a peerage and ministerial job in the Scotland Office to Andrew Dunlop, a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher at the time of the poll tax. Responding to that appointment, SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson said it was an “appalling and anti-democratic” scandal.
However, SNP insiders believe antagonistic moves like this will actually boost the campaign for independence. Likewise, it is understood the SNP is hoping Jim Murphy will stay in his position as Scottish Labour leader given the fact he oversaw the collapse of his party at the polls last week.
The senior SNP source even said the party would have considered fielding candidates in the north of England had the leadership debates happened sooner, as they made clear Sturgeon’s potential for popularity south of the border. Sturgeon has said there are no plans to do this, despite a favourable impression of her among many English voters and a social media campaign in the north of England called #TakeUsWithYouScotland.
It is understood that not even Sturgeon herself believed the predictions that the SNP would almost sweep the board in Scotland with 56 out of 59 seats, having a “wobble” on Thursday night about how well the party would fare against Labour.
The fact that the SNP is talking about opportunities for another referendum is likely to make for a combative parliament. Many of the party’s new MPs have been celebrating in the House of Commons this week, taking over a bar in parliament called the Sports and Social Club that has usually been populated by Labour researchers.
The party is already in talks to get all the obligations and privileges of the Liberal Democrats as the new third party in Westminster. An SNP MP said the party has secured use of the old Lib Dem corridor and suggested renaming it “Freedom Alley”. Robertson will move into Nick Clegg’s old office and the party’s whips will get an office allowing them to open unofficial communications with the Labour and Tory whips, known as the “usual channels”.
The party is also expecting to be handed at least two chairmanships of select committees and two questions at prime minister’s questions, as well as opposition debate time.
Robertson was confirmed as SNP’s Westminster leader on Tuesday, despite speculation that Salmond could make a return to the top job in London. Sturgeon has made clear she will be her party’s chief negotiator and spokesman on major issues.
Speaking following the SNP’s landslide election, Robertson said his party was “better placed to hold the UK government to account” than ever before.