Labour’s top lawyer has dismissed the SNP’s “plan B” for independence, saying any proposals to hold a referendum without Westminster’s consent would be defeated in the courts.
Senior nationalists have been arguing for some time that if Boris Johnson refuses to grant a second poll, in the event of an SNP victory at next year’s Holyrood elections, the Scottish Government should plough ahead regardless.
Shadow attorney general Charlie Falconer, who served as justice secretary under Tony Blair, told us such a move would be “legally and plainly wrong”, adding: “I don’t think they would succeed in the courts.”
Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil, who came up with the wording for the SNP’s “plan B”, hit back at Lord Falconer, accusing him of “denying democracy”.
Under Mr MacNeil’s plan, next year’s Holyrood elections would become “an effective referendum on independence” – with an SNP win giving the Scottish Government the “mandate” for separation.
Section 30 order
Mr MacNeil said such a plan was needed as a “backstop” against Mr Johnson refusing to grant a section 30 order, which transfers powers to Edinburgh to hold a referendum.
He said: “Charlie either doesn’t understand the proposed mechanism of plan B or his argument is bonkers and a denial of democracy, it would be better if it is the former.”
Lord Falconer did acknowledge that the argument for Scotland staying in the union was now one that now needed “to be won”.
His comment comes on the back of nine polls showing there is now majority support among Scots for breaking away from the UK.
The Labour peer said the prime minister’s handling of Brexit had been a major factor in independence support surging.
“Boris Johnson is the biggest recruiting sergeant for separation that there is,” he said.
“I think Scots are absolutely fed up, first of all with a Tory government that couldn’t do anything and then a Tory government that operates in a way that appears completely to ignore the interests of Scotland.”
He added: “I think there is an argument to be won on staying within the union in Scotland.
“I don’t think the internal market bill helps the winning of that argument at the moment, but it is an argument we have in Labour got to undertake and press as hard as possible, because the consequences, both for Scotland, and for the rest of the UK of Scotland leaving will be very, very damaging.”
‘A huge amount of work to do’
Lord Falconer admitted the road back for his party in Scotland would be tough, adding: “We’ve got a very, very long way to go.
“We did very badly in the general election in 2019, we need, really, to climb a mountain in Scotland and we’ve got to do that, we’ve got to do that by making it absolutely clear that we in the Labour Party are on the side of the Scottish people.”
Asked if the party had enough strong voices in Scotland, he said: “We’ve got voices I think, I think a lot of people are speaking up for Scottish Labour.
“The question is, have we convinced people in Scotland that we we’re on their side? We’ve got a huge amount of work to do in relation to that.”