This week will see the publication of the Scottish government’s Referendum Bill before parliament goes into recess as campaigning starts for the Scottish elections in May.
The bill will confirm plans to hold the second independence referendum when the Covid-19 pandemic has receded.
The timing is a pointed response to Unionist parties who have adopted the mantra that the middle of a pandemic is not the right time for the referendum.
Scottish constitution secretary Michael Russell said at the weekend the bill ‘is going to say that we will hold a referendum when the time is right to hold it, and that will be at the conclusion of the pandemic. Nobody is suggesting anything else and again that’s been misrepresented’.
Mr Russell also demolished the other main unionist argument that an independence referendum would be a distraction from the task of rebuilding after Covid.
“There is no dichotomy between referendum and recovery. It isn’t referendum OR recovery but referendum FOR recovery” he said.
What it’s going to say is something incredibly normal, which is that people should have the right to decide their own future
He said the bill would allow the debate to focus on ‘those positive things that Scotland needs to go forward' and added: ‘What it’s going to say is something incredibly normal, which is that people should have the right to decide their own future. That’s how the world works.”
Some prominent SNP politicians have suggested that the referendum could still be held before the end of 2021 but most stick to the official line that it would be held in the 'early part' of the new parliamentary term.
The commitment to holding the referendum if the SNP win a majority in the May election will be in the party’s manifesto. Its route map to independence says a parliamentary majority would lead to holding a ‘legal’ referendum even if Westminster refuses to grant a Section 30 order for the vote.
Believe in Scotland expects the SNP to make it clear in their manifesto that a pro Yes majority parliament, regardless of whether it is an SNP majority or an SNP/Green majority, will hold a referendum on that basis.