The SNP faced fury today after demanding a fresh independence referendum happens next year – despite the country still being wracked by coroanvirus.
The nationalists’ Westminster leader Ian Blackford said a second vote on splitting the UK ‘must’ happen in 2021 – insisting it had already been delayed from this year.
He insisted that Nicola Sturgeon will have grounds to hold a referendum ‘quickly’ if the SNP wins Holyrood elections in May.
But critics branded the push ‘disrespectful’, with former PM Gordon Brown insisting they must instead focus on ‘healing’ after the pandemic.
Alarm has been growing in Westminster at the surge in support for independence, with one recent poll putting it at 58 per cent.
Ms Sturgeon’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and Brexit tensions have been credited with the shift.
The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford (left) said a second vote on splitting the UK ‘must’ happen in 2021 – insisting Nicola Sturgeon (right) had already delayed it from this year
Critics branded the push ‘disrespectful’, with former PM Gordon Brown (pictured on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show today) insisting they must instead focus on ‘healing’ after the pandemic.
But the inability of unionists to mobilise and get across their messages about the benefits of keeping the centuries-old alliance has also been identified as a problem.
In an interview with the Sunday National newspaper, Mr Blackford, MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, said: ‘We need to demonstrably show that the people of Scotland are determined that they will have their say and in the first case, we have to win this election for the people of Scotland.
‘To be able to be respectful to those who are not currently with us that we’re appealing to join us; about that denial of democracy that is currently taking place and to affirm that it is the sovereign right of the people of Scotland to determine their own future; and come what may, we will prevail.’
Mr Blackford added: ‘That referendum will take place and we need to plan that that referendum must take place in 2021.’
He said the coronavirus crisis had led to plans for another referendum being delayed, saying: ‘Covid has come along and the Scottish Government in particular, has had to take its responsibilities of stewarding the country through this crisis.
‘So we’ve had to, from a tactical point of view, put off holding a referendum in 2020 and I apologise that that was the case.’
The party’s Westminster leader said the SNP would have a platform to hold indyref2 ‘quickly’ when the crisis is over and they secured a ‘victory at Holyrood’.
But former Labour premier Mr Brown told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that a referendum should not be held as the country ‘heals’ from coronavirus.
An Ipsos Mori poll last momth suggested that support for Scottish independence had hit 58 per cent – the highest on record
Mr Brown said: ‘I think most Scottish people will make up their mind that in the middle of a virus when you’ve got to heal the virus, you’ve got to heal the recession and you’ve got to look at the whole future of Britain – and the SNP have got to come clean about what it now means for independence, now you’ve got economic changes taking place – I don’t think this is the right time at all.’
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said Mr Blackford’s comments were ‘deeply disrespectful’.
He said: ‘Ian Blackford’s commitment to a referendum a few months from now is not just irresponsible but delusional and shows how out of touch the SNP are.
‘The Scottish Conservatives are focusing on fighting the pandemic and rebuilding the economy. That is what people want and expect.’
He added: ‘The fact he feels the need to apologise for not staging a referendum this year as thousands of lives in Scotland have been lost and families continue to mourn is deeply disrespectful but also telling about the SNP’s obsession with independence over everything else.’