The Scottish government will publish legislation setting out the timetable and question of a potential second Scottish independence referendum within weeks, Scotland’s constitution secretary has confirmed.
The draft Bill – promised in the legislative programme first minister Nicola Sturgeon set out last year – is due to be published before the Scottish parliament enters recess next month in the run-up to the Holyrood election.
Constitution secretary Mike Russell told the Sunday National: “We said we would publish it before the Parliament rose and we will.
“It is a very simple bill, there is nothing complicated about it.
“The key point is we have said we will put it in front of the people of Scotland at an election and they will have the decision on it.
“It is proceeding according to what we said, it is a simple short Bill and people will have the chance to then decide what they want to do – that is democracy.”
The Scottish government’s programme for government for 2020/21 said: “Before the end of this Parliament, we will publish a draft Bill for an independence referendum – setting out the terms of a future referendum clearly and unambiguously to the people of Scotland.
“This will include the question to be asked, subject to appropriate testing by the Electoral Commission, and the timescale in which we consider the referendum should be held, taking account of the current state of the Covid-19 pandemic at the time of publication of the draft Bill.”
Last month, the SNP released an 11-point “roadmap” to an independence referendum – setting out that a ballot could take place if May’s Holyrood elections result in a pro-independence majority, even if Westminster refuses to grant a Section 30 order.
The party plans to force the UK government into a legal challenge if a Section 30 order is not granted.
Critics questioned the timing of the planned legislation given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “It is so reckless that the SNP are ramping up plans for another divisive independence referendum at this time.
“The SNP’s threat of an illegal referendum is a distraction that risks our handling of the pandemic and will hold back our economic recovery.
“It is beyond belief that Mike Russell thinks that this should be the priority when lives and livelihoods are still threatened.”
Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “It is grossly insulting that the Scottish government is devoting time to this during a public health pandemic that is claiming lives.
“The public has made it clear that a divisive second independence referendum should not be a priority.
“All focus should be on recovery and bringing communities together, not pulling us apart.”