Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, made a statement on Monday 13th March confirming that the Scottish Government will seek the approval of the Scottish Parliament to ask the UK Government for permission to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence from the UK.
The text of her statement can be found here.
Saying that “Scotland stands at a hugely important crossroads”, the First Minister stated that she intended to protect Scotland’s interests in the wake of the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union.
The First Minister contended that the Scottish Government’s plans to protect Scotland’s place in Europe had so far not been taken into account in the UK Government’s plans for Brexit. She added that, facing a so called “hard Brexit”, the Scottish people should be able to make a choice as to “what kind of country we will become”.
Section 30 Order
The formal mechanism by which any second referendum would be allowed is known as a “Section 30 Order”, which gives the Scottish Parliament the power to legislate for such a referendum. This is an Order in Council made under Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998, allowing an exception to the rule that only the UK Parliament legislates on constitutional matters for Scotland; the Order also modifies the legislation relating to referendum campaign broadcasts. Importantly, such an order is made only by the UK Government and does not require the involvement of the UK Parliament.
The Scottish Government would, prior to seeking the Order, need to table a motion in the Scottish Parliament which was successfully passed by a majority of members there. Although the governing Scottish National Party does not have a majority, the Scottish Green Party has indicated that its members would vote with the SNP; together, the two parties could command a majority in the parliamentary chamber.
Timeframe for a Second Referendum
The First Minister indicated that her preferred dates for the proposed referendum would be between Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019, “when the terms of Brexit are known, but before it is too late to choose our own course”.
The Scottish Government already published a draft Bill on a second Independence Referendum, which formed part of its programme for Government for 2016‑17. There would, however, need to be agreement on various key parts of any Bill introduced before Parliament, including the wording of the question which would be asked, the franchise, and whether there would be a requirement for a particular level of turn out in order for the result to be effective.
The UK Government has yet to give a response on whether or not it will grant a Section 30 Order and, if so, on what terms.