12:48 GMT18 April 2021
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    Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon vowed in January that she intended to hold a “legal referendum” on independence from the UK if she wins Scottish elections scheduled for May, despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson vehemently opposing another secession vote.

    Boris Johnson is reportedly to argue against a second Scottish vote for independence amid the coronavirus pandemic as a reckless move, as he addresses the Scottish Conservative Party conference on Sunday, writes The Telegraph.

    “Absolutely now is not the time for a reckless independence referendum. We need to be pulling together,” a government source was cited as saying by the outlet.

    Another source added:

    “We’re not having a referendum in the middle of a pandemic”.

    Spectre of Scottish Independence

    In January, Scotland’s leader Nicola Sturgeon said she intends to hold a “legal referendum” on independence from the UK if she wins Scottish elections scheduled for May, arguing that Brexit has transformed the situation by dragging Scotland out of the EU against its will.

    Scottish voters were first asked whether they wanted Scotland to become an independent country in a referendum in September 2014, with 55 percent to 45 percent opting against independence.

    Brexit triggered further worries among advocates of independence.

    Scotland had voted by 62 percent to 38 percent to remain in the European fold in the EU referendum in June 2016, prompting First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to state that a second referendum, dubbed indyref2, “must be on the table”.

    A day ahead of the triggering of Article 50 - the legal mechanism for a member state of the European Union (EU) to leave - in March 2017, Sturgeon formally requested permission from Westminster to hold another referendum.

    Vandalised no thanks sign
    © Flickr / Kay Roxby
    Vandalised no thanks sign

    However, then-prime minister Theresa May declined, responding that “now is not the time”.

    Sturgeon doubled down on calls for a second vote after the general election, when the Scottish National Party (SNP) won 48 of Scotland’s 59 seats.

    The First Minister formally requested the power to hold an independence referendum on 19 December 2019, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson refusing to grant the request. According to Johnson, the 2014 referendum was a "once in a generation opportunity".

    Most Scots would vote to remain in the UK if an independence referendum were held tomorrow, according to a fresh poll by Savanta ComRes for the Scotland on Sunday newspaper.

    ​It suggests that 46 percent would vote against Scottish independence, compared with 43 percent in favour, and 10 percent undecided.

    ‘Below-the-Radar’ Strategy

    Ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections on 6 May 2021, Downing Street deems it crucial to make no bones about the fact that it will not grant a second referendum, even should the SNP win a majority of seats.
    The currently adopted strategy by Whitehall is seen as two-pronged.
    While a ‘poor timing’ case is made amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, plans are forged to counter the allure of prospective independence, writes the outlet.

    The strategy seeking to strengthen the Union, conceived by senior figures within the government, is to rule out a new version of Better Together, the pro-UK campaign in the 2014 referendum. Instead, as part of a billion-pound investment drive, the UK Government plans to channel fiscal incentives directly in Scottish transport and infrastructure, circumventing the Scottish Government.

    First Minister's Questions in Scottish Parliament

    These fiscal measures, Cabinet ministers reportedly believe, could help tout the benefits of staying in the UK.
    “The way we'll save the Union is by showing Westminster can deliver for Scottish people and businesses,” an adviser to a cabinet minister was reported as saying.

    Furthermore, last year’s UK Internal Market Act rendered legal the UK Government's right to pour money into areas devolved to the Scottish Government, such as transport and culture.

    Cabinet ministers have already factored in over a billion pounds-worth of spending in Scotland over the next decade, says the report, with an ambitious plan to set up a new “trade and investment hub” in Edinburgh, with approximately 60 staff employed there by 2022.

    Other options such as having the House of Commons sitting in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland for a fortnight each September have also been mulled under a proposal being made by Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

    “It would bring Parliament closer to the people,” a source was quoted as saying in reference to the proposal, the logistics of which remain vague.

    Rees-Mogg is believed to have discussed the proposal with Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, who supposedly remains unconvinced.

    Besides the message of priorities amid the pandemic, Downing Street is said to be arguing that the SNP has failed to offer “clarity” on how independence would impact Scottish pensions, the English-Scottish border and Scotland’s currency, among other issues.

    Furthermore, a string of pro-UK bodies will reportedly be tasked with ‘taking the fight to the SNP’ as they deliver messages seeking to undercut SNP’s independence narrative.

    Activists attend an anti-Conservative government, pro-Scottish independence, and anti-Brexit demonstration outside Holyrood, the seat of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh on February 1, 2020.
    © AFP 2021 / ANDY BUCHANAN
    Activists attend an anti-Conservative government, pro-Scottish independence, and anti-Brexit demonstration outside Holyrood, the seat of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh on February 1, 2020.

    Suggested autonomous groups, to date, include Scotland Can, These Islands, Scottish Business UK, Scotland in Union and Scotland Matters.

    As for the option of further devolution of new powers to Scotland, there is reportedly little support for this in Whitehall over concerns it might inadvertently fuel support for independence.

    ​Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was earlier warned that independence would make Scottish people "significantly worse off”, as a study by the Facts4EU.org policy institute earlier this month suggested the move could jeopardise 60 percent of exports to the rest of the UK, worth approximately over £50 billion.


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