Nicola Sturgeon’s most senior legal adviser should stop her from bringing forward legislation in Holyrood to hold a second independence referendum, the Scottish Conservative leader has said.
Douglas Ross insisted it was not in Holyrood’s power to pass a referendum bill, saying responsibility for constitutional issues was reserved to Westminster.
And as such he said the Lord Advocate, who provides legal advice to the Scottish Government and is a member of the cabinet, should block any attempts to bring forward such legislation.
Mr Ross spoke out amid speculation that the UK Government maybe forced to go to court to stop the Ms Sturgeon’s newly re-elected Scottish Government from holding another referendum.
The First Minister argued that such a move would merely highlight the “lack of respect for Scottish democracy that this UK Government has”, after Scots voted for a majority of MSPs who support independence.
However, Mr Ross said that by talking about the prospects of a potential court room clash between the two governments, the SNP leader was “jumping many steps ahead”.
Ms Sturgeon has already declared it is the “will of the country” that there should be another referendum, after Scots returned 64 SNP MSPs and eight Green MSPs – giving the pro-independence parties an overall majority at Holyrood.
But her Tory rival claimed he thought the SNP leader was “focusing her argument on a hypothetical court battle… to perhaps distract attention from the fact that she has now, on two occasions, failed to secure a majority government”.
The Scottish Tory leader was speaking to journalists after his party saw 31 MSPs elected in Thursday’s Holyrood election, making them again the main opposition to the SNP.
And he insisted that the Lord Advocate could play an “absolutely crucial” role in the future of the UK, saying the senior law officer must “uphold the competency of what the Scottish Government can and cannot do”.
Mr Ross said: “If the Lord Advocate does not believe something is within the competence of the Scottish Government or the Scottish Parliament he is there in his dual role as both the most senior legal adviser to the First Minister and the Scottish Government, and of course a member of the Scottish Government cabinet.
“His role, or whoever is in that position if there is any change, is absolutely crucial.
“And of course they have a Scotland Act to base their decisions on in terms of competency in what the Scottish Government can and cannot do.”
The Tory leader, who was returned to Holyrood on Thursday, continued: “Nicola Sturgeon is framing this as a battle believes she can force the Government into, to take the Scottish Government to court.
“But let’s look at the Scotland Act and what the Scottish Government have within their own competencies. And I think currently Nicola Sturgeon is jumping many steps ahead.”
Mr Ross insisted: “It is not within the competency of the Scottish Parliament to hold another independence referendum. In 2014 we had the gold standard, which was one which had secured a section 30 order.
“And I would expect the holder of the office of Lord Advocate to uphold the competency of what the Scottish Government can and cannot do.”
On this issue, the Conservative stated: “The competency to hold a second independence referendum is reserved to the UK Parliament to grant a section 30 order.”