Scotland politics

Russell: Indyref timetable 'in Westminster's hands'

Mike Russell
Image caption Mike Russell said the timetable for another independence vote could be in the hands of the UK government

The timetable for a second independence referendum could be in the hands of the Westminster government, Scotland's Brexit minister has said.

Mike Russell said the SNP had put forward compromise options over Brexit, but said they were being "closed down".

He was updating MSPs after Supreme Court judges ruled against both the UK and Scottish governments on Article 50.

The Conservatives said the SNP was focused on "thrice-daily threats" of a referendum instead of governing.

Supreme Court judges ruled that MPs and peers should have a say on the triggering of Article 50, but there was no legally-enforceable reason for MSPs to have a say.

Mr Russell told members that the judgement had shown a clear political reason why Holyrood's legislative consent should be engaged, as it noted how Brexit would change devolved competencies.

The UK government has insisted that Scotland's voice is "being heard clearly throughout the whole process".

Scottish Secretary David Mundell said it was important that Scotland's SNP administration assisted in getting the best possible deal for Scotland and the whole UK.

During a ministerial statement at Holyrood, Green MSP Ross Greer asked Mr Russell about the timeline for a second independence referendum bill, saying "it's becoming increasingly clear that we must put Scotland's future in Scotland's hands".

Mr Russell replied: "I can't give the member that timetable, and he will not be surprised by that, but let me put it this way.

"The options that we have placed on the table are being closed down, not because of any actions by the Scottish government. They are being closed down by the Westminster government.

"So in a sense, the timetable of what goes ahead now lies with the Westminster government.

"If the Westminster government is prepared to operate in a way that it has promised to operate, if it is prepared to debate and discuss, if it is prepared to look seriously at where we are going, then that dictates one timetable.

"If they are not prepared to do so, that dictates another."

Image copyright Scottish Parliament
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon said MSPs will discuss and vote on Brexit, regardless of the Supreme Court rulling

In the same session, Scottish Conservative members attacked Mr Russell over the Scottish government's position.

Jackson Carlaw said the SNP was ignoring the business of government while issuing "paranoid, thrice-daily threats of another independence referendum".

And Adam Tomkins said the SNP had "tried and failed to stoke grievance about Brexit", saying EU membership was not a devolved matter.

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour called on the SNP to reject isolationism in all forms, with Lewis Macdonald saying "the Scottish people do not want to leave Europe or the UK".

Willie Rennie called on the SNP to support Lib Dem proposals for a fresh referendum on the Brexit deal, a move Mr Russell said was unlikely to win the backing of any members in the House of Commons besides the Lib Dems.

'Best possible settlement'

Earlier, Mr Russell told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme that the best possible settlement could only be established if there was a will to listen.

He said: "We are in the process of leaving the EU, I don't think we can alter that at this particular moment.

"What we need to do is get the best possible settlement for Scotland which means continuing membership of the single market at least through EFTA and EEA membership which is available and which our paper [Scottish government Brexit plan] deals with.

"There are opportunities to have our voice heard, but is anybody listening? Because if nobody is listening then this is a pointless process.

"So far the evidence is that they are not listening if you take the single market example, Theresa May went and announced her decision on that without consultation, without even consultation with the committee set up to negotiate the common position on Article 50. That is disrespectful but it actually means there is no point in having a discussion."

Image copyright EPA

Despite judges ruling that the elected administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have no legal say on triggering Article 50, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged to hold a Holyrood vote on the matter regardless.

She said there remained a "clear political obligation" on the UK government to consult devolved administrations, adding that "it is becoming clearer by the day that Scotland's voice is simply not being heard or listened to within the UK".

It is thought a Brexit bill could be introduced at Westminster as early as Thursday.

Responding to Mr Russell's comments, a UK government spokeswoman said: "The devolution settlement is clear that foreign affairs are reserved to the UK Parliament. The well-established Sewel Convention applies only to devolved matters.

"The 59 MPs who represent Scotland in the UK parliament will scrutinise, debate and vote on the Article 50 Bill, alongside representatives from across the United Kingdom.

"We are consulting extensively with the Scottish government and, crucially, engaging with people and businesses across Scotland. We are committed to working closely with the Scottish government as we prepare to leave the EU, as we have done since the vote in June."

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