Scotland’s First Minister has touched off a debate on the route to Scottish independence by insisting that a “legal referendum” is the only way to achieve the desired outcome.
Speaking to BBC Scotland’s political editor, Brian Taylor, Nicola Sturgeon said there was “no easy or shortcut route to independence” so that a future referendum was “beyond any doubt in terms of its legitimacy”.
Sturgeon, who is the leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), made the comments on October 10 ahead of the SNP’s three-day conference, which begins in Aberdeen tomorrow.
Sturgeon’s comments are widely seen as a warning to members within her party, and elements in the wider Scottish independence movement, to avoid extra-legal steps which could draw a sharp rebuke from London.
Sturgeon is apparently anxious to avoid going down the route of the Catalan independence movement in Spain, which organized a referendum in October 2017 that was not recognized by Madrid.
Following what it called an “illegal” referendum, Spain cracked down on the Catalan independence movement by jailing or forcing into exile its leadership.
To reinforce her position, Sturgeon proclaimed: “We have to demonstrate majority support for independence in a process that is legal and legitimate and that crucially – not just domestically in the UK but internationally and in Europe in particular – will be accepted. That is the right way to go”.
But in a sign of intra-independence movement disputes, a senior SNP Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) has claimed that a victory in the next Scottish Parliament election could give the SNP a “mandate for independence”.
Speaking to BBC Scotland’s The Nine, Alex Neil, who is MSP for the Airdrie and Shotts constituency, said that winning the 2021 Scottish parliamentary elections would enable the SNP to commence independence negotiations.
Neil’s position has support within the SNP, notably from MP Angus MacNeil (who represents the Na h-Eileanan an lar constituency in the House of Commons) and Inverclyde councillor, Chris McEleny.
Beyond the SNP, there are many radicals in the wider Scottish nationalist movement who want to press ahead with independence almost immediately.
The former British diplomat, and Scottish independence advocate, Craig Murray, has previously called for ignoring London by making immediate preparations for Scottish independence.
For her part, Sturgeon remains defiant by adding: “I am absolutely confident we will win independence sooner rather than later, but the only way to do that is to clearly demonstrate that the majority of people in Scotland want it”.
It remains to be seen whether Sturgeon can contain dissenting voices, both within and without her party, as she prepares to enter into make or break negotiations with London.