Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson has refused to say whether £20 million allocated for a second independence referendum would be redeployed to other services if a vote is delayed or cancelled.
Mr Robertson was joined by Finance Secretary Kate Forbes at the Scottish Parliament’s Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee to discuss the challenges facing the culture portfolio – which he is also in charge of – following last week’s spending review.
The Scottish Government received a backlash over the £20 million funding allocation as other services, such as local government and policing, saw their funding capped – resulting in real-terms cuts over the next five years.
Mr Robertson told MSPs his party has no plans to delay or postpone an independence vote by the end of 2023.
He said the SNP was given a mandate to hold the vote in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election after it secured the most seats.
During the committee session on Thursday, Conservative MSP Donald Cameron asked about potential delays caused by an independence Bill being scrutinised by Parliament.
He said: “There is a question as to the timetable. We know we await a referendum Bill and we know that has to be consulted upon.
“Legislation takes time and there is the potential for litigation.
“It is possible that either the timetable will slip or a referendum won’t happen, and if that transpires will you redeploy the funding of £20 million within the culture portfolio given the very significant and severe challenges the portfolio faces?”
The committee had previously heard how the sector is struggling to bounce back from the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent cost-of-living crisis.
Mr Robertson said: “Mr Cameron left out the other option of course, which is that the UK Government respects the result of the Scottish Parliament election and that Prime Minister Boris Johnson acts in the exact same way as his predecessor David Cameron acted.
“Scottish politics, as this Mr Cameron on this committee knows, is full of UK Government saying ‘no, no, no, yes’.
“I would invite him to work with me to persuade the UK Government to live up to their democratic undertakings.
“Afterall, they are particularly keen in going around the world saying that the UK is a democratic country upholding the highest standard of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
“It would be really nice if they did it in this case as well.”
Mr Cameron again pressed Mr Robertson for an answer to his question on whether the funds would be redistributed elsewhere.
Mr Robertson replied: “We’re going to have a referendum. Aren’t we?”
Earlier this week, the Scottish Government released some legal advice on its plans to hold a second independence referendum.
The two-page document showed ministers had been advised of a “legal basis” to test the question with the Electoral Commission.
But critics said the paper missed out “the big questions” on whether Holyrood ministers can legally hold a referendum on Scotland’s place in the UK.
Following the committee, Mr Cameron said: “Scots have made it abundantly clear they do not want another divisive independence referendum yet the SNP government are recklessly pressing ahead anyway.
“The nationalists will always be driven by their number one obsession of pursuing the break-up of our United Kingdom, despite the major challenges facing the country.
“People will find it astonishing that, with everything that’s going on, the SNP are still hell-bent on holding another divisive referendum by 2023.
“The SNP’s focus should be on supporting people through the cost-of-living crisis and rebuilding our public services after the pandemic. Instead, they have shamefully set aside £20 million for a referendum next year.”