Nicola Sturgeon has warned Boris Johnson he would be showing the same contempt for democracy as Donald Trump displayed after losing the US presidential election, if he were to block the will of the Scottish people in favour of another referendum on independence.
Writing for the Observer before elections to the Scottish parliament on 6 May, which are likely to deliver a majority for pro-independence candidates, Scotland’s first minister says Scots must be free to determine their own future, and not have their democratic will thwarted by the government in Westminster.
So far Johnson and his ministers have rejected the idea of another referendum, saying that the 2014 vote against independence settled the issue for a generation.
But the SNP says Brexit and the pandemic have fundamentally changed the context and bolstered the case for Scotland to go it alone.
In her article, which makes the democratic as well as patriotic and economic case for independence, Sturgeon says refusing to respect the will of the electorate did not work for Trump and would be an equally disastrous approach for Johnson to follow.
“Tackling the pandemic and getting the recovery under way comes first,” Sturgeon writes.
“However, if there is a majority in the Scottish parliament after this election for an independence referendum then Scotland must have the chance to put the recovery into Scotland’s hands.
“For the UK government to seek to block it would be unsustainable. For them to try to take legal action, as has been suggested, would be asking a court to effectively overturn the result of a free and fair democratic election.
“That would be an appalling look for any prime minister. More to the point, it didn’t work for Donald Trump and it wouldn’t work for Boris Johnson. Scotland’s future must, and will, be decided by the people of Scotland.”
While the Scottish Conservatives and Labour parties both oppose another referendum, it is widely expected that pro-independence MSPs from the ruling SNP, the Greens and possibly the former first minister Alex Salmond’s breakaway Alba party, will guarantee a majority in favour of those campaigning for another referendum.
Sturgeon argues that after Brexit – which the majority of Scots opposed – and Covid it would be “ludicrous” to deny the Scottish people the right to rebuild their country’s economy, and shape its position in the world, independent of distant authority in Westminster.
“Imagine a country seeking to recover from Covid, without the ability to control the key economic and social policy levers needed to rebuild, while the bulk of social security powers, tax, employment, borrowing and migration powers are held elsewhere. For good measure, imagine that country was taken out of the EU and the huge European single market against its democratic will.
“It is ludicrous of course to assume that any country would contemplate for a single second being put in such a position, yet that is where Scotland finds itself. In Scotland today we are being told we must leave the key powers needed to shape our recovery in the hands of a Westminster government, led by Boris Johnson, that we did not elect.”
Last week, Johnson dropped plans to visit Scotland to campaign in the elections, fuelling suspicion that his party fears he would damage efforts to lure anti-independence voters away from Scottish Labour.
The change of plan came despite Johnson’s assertion in January that “wild horses” would not keep him from campaigning to save the union.
The Scottish Tory party’s leader, Douglas Ross, told reporters after his Holyrood manifesto launch on Monday that the pair had spoken the night before, agreeing Johnson would not come to Scotland.
Allegra Stratton, the prime minister’s spokeswoman, blamed the move on Covid, saying: “The pandemic is making these visits more challenging than they would be otherwise.”
Ross repeatedly refused to state whether he agreed that a majority of pro-independence MSPs at Holyrood would give Sturgeon a mandate to request a new referendum. “I’m not going to predict the outcome of an election when we’ve still got two and a bit weeks to go,” he said.
The polls suggest that pro-independence SNP and Scottish Green MSPs, potentially bolstered by one or two MSPs from Salmond’s Alba party, will dominate Holyrood.
The polling company Ipsos Mori found that 51% of voters across the UK believed Sturgeon should be allowed to stage a fresh referendum if the SNP wins a majority on its own account in May. Even so, the Yes vote in Scotland has fallen back, and is now neck and neck with No.