Chris Hanlon, the SNP’s policy development convener put forward a motion debated by members during the Nats conference today calling on the party to conduct a “detailed and serious national debate” on independence. The motion also called for a commitment in the SNP manifesto to hold a referendum for recovery “once it is safe to do so”.
As part of the motion which was backed by 535 votes to 10, conference delegates also recognised that in May’s election the SNP received an unequivocal mandate from the people of Scotland to hold a referendum on independence and that conference looks forward to Scotland’s future being in Scotland’s hands.
Mr Hanlon, speaking in favour of the motion told SNP members: “In May of this year, we asked the sovereign people of Scotland to authorise the next Scottish Government to hold a referendum on drawing to a close, a political union with the rest of the United Kingdom.
“It is no longer fit for purpose and can only hamper our efforts to rebuild from Covid.
“The sovereign body, which has no legal superior in the United Kingdom, clearly and unambiguously issued an instruction to our elected representatives in Holyrood that they must do so by the end of the current parliamentary term.
“So this resolution isn’t about whether we hold a legal referendum, the constitution and the law are clear: the sovereign body has issued an instruction.
“We will be having a referendum and there is no question of its legality.”
Mr Hanlon also insisted the timescale for another vote was “not kicking the can down the road”, amid some calls from pro-independence supporters for another referendum as soon as possible.
But economist Andrew Wilson, who chaired the SNP Growth Commission said a vote could happen as early as Autumn 2022.
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Unionist politicians and campaigners branded the decision to pass the motion as “insulting”.
Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “The SNP leadership should spend more time listening to the country and less time listening to its supporters.
“It’s insulting that any politician would think planning for a divisive second referendum is a good use of parliamentary and government time and resources.
Ian Murray MP, Labour’s Shadow Scotland Secretary, said: “SNP conference backing a referendum is hardly a shock, but for most people this is the last thing on their mind.
“The SNP were all too aware this during the election, which is why they promised to focus on recovery. They’ve broken that promise.
“It’s time for them to stop talking to themselves about their separatist obsession and get on with the job they were actually elected to do.”
Donald Cameron MSP, Scottish Conservative constitution spokesperson, said: “The SNP failed to win a majority in May’s election and missed their own target.
“No amount of conference rhetoric will change that.
“Every political party should be working towards Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic, which could take years.
“Fixating on a rerun of the 2014 referendum will do nothing but damage our chances of rebuilding the economy, supporting our NHS and public services, and getting our young people’s education back on track.”
In response, Angus Robertson, Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution and External Affairs, said: “There is a cast-iron democratic mandate for an independence referendum, with the SNP receiving the highest share of the vote and the strongest electoral endorsement in the history of devolution in May’s election.
“I am delighted that conference has now backed this motion to pass the Draft Referendum Bill and ensure that Scotland’s future will be put into Scotland’s hands with a referendum for recovery.
“We cannot trust the Tories to protect the future of Scotland.
“That is why it so important Scotland has the choice to forge a different, better path with independence.”
The vote followed a poll for the Sunday Times that suggests 53 percent of voters with a preference would like a referendum in the next five years, although just 17 pecent would want it to happen within the next 12 months.