Scots can have independence referendum if 60% want it, says minister

Scots can have independence referendum if 60% want it, says minister
Scotland secretary Alister Jack insists: ‘That’s not where we are’

Scotland can have a second independence referendum if opinion polls consistently show 60 per cent of Scots want a new vote, a cabinet minister has said.

Alister Jack’s comments are the first time a senior minister has put a precise threshold on the support needed to trigger a poll with the blessing of London.

But they represent a high bar for first minister Nicola Sturgeon and supporters of independence to clear, with recent polls suggesting that little more than 40 per cent north of the border want an IndyRef2 within the next five years.

This month’s power-sharing deal between Ms Sturgeon’s SNP and the Scottish Green has brought the prospect of a referendum closer. With the two pro-independence parties between them holding 72 of the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament, the first minster said the deal made it “impossible on any democratic basis” for the UK government to rebuff her demands for another poll.

Boris Johnson has consistently refused to grant the permission required under the Scotland Act to grant any poll legitimacy. But the cabinet minister with responsibility for Union policy, Michael Gove, this month indicated this could change if there was evidence of “a settled will in favour of a referendum”.

Speaking to the Politico website, Mr Jack said that this could mean opinion polls regularly recording that six in 10 Scots want a re-run of the 2014 referendum, which rejected separation from the United Kingdom by a margin of 55-45 per cent.

“If you consistently saw 60 percent of the population wanting a referendum — not wanting independence but wanting a referendum [to take place] — and that was sustained over a reasonably long period, then I would acknowledge that there was a desire for a referendum,” Jack said. “Anyone can see that.

“But that’s not where we are and it’s not how I perceive things to be,” he added. “I think I’m broadly where the public are, which is that now is not the time to be having a referendum. We’ve had one, we’ve made our decision, let’s get on and rebuild the economy and rebuild people’s lives.”

The most recent poll of Scots on whether there should be a referendum, conducted earlier this month, found a narrow 42-40 per cent division in favour of a second vote before the Holyrood elections in 2026, with the remainder undecided or unwilling to express an opinion.

However in a separate survey in May, just 27 per cent said there should “never” be another independence referendum, with 47 per cent wanting one by 2025 and a further 16 per cent saying it should come later.

After 20 polls in a row in Scotland showed narrow majorities in favour of independence between summer 2020 and spring this year, more recent surveys have shown a small lead for continued UK membership.

Ms Sturgeon has said she wants to have an independence referendum within the next five years, preferably by the end of 2023.