Boris Johnson has written to Nicola Sturgeon to formally reject her request for the transfer of powers necessary to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence.
Scotland’s first minister immediately dismissed the prime minister’s position as “unsustainable and self-defeating”, insisting: “The Westminster union cannot be sustained without consent. Democracy will prevail. The only question is how long it will take the Tories and the rest of the Westminster establishment to accept that inevitability.”
The Scottish National party leader wrote to Johnson on 19 December to request the powers to legally stage another referendum under section 30 of the 1998 Scotland Act, at the same time calling for the Scottish parliament to be given permanent powers to hold subsequent referendums on independence from the UK in a 38-page document entitled “Scotland’s Right to Choose”.
When Sturgeon confirmed she had made the request, a week after securing 47 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats with an increased vote share of 45% in December’s general election, she said she “fully expected to get a flat no” from Westminster initially.
The prime minister said on Tuesday he had “carefully considered and noted” Sturgeon’s arguments, but said that “another independence referendum would continue the political stagnation that Scotland has seen for the last decade, with Scottish schools, hospitals and jobs again left behind because of a campaign to separate the UK”.
Johnson stated categorically that he “cannot agree to any request for a transfer of power that would lead to any further independence referendums”, appearing to rule out another vote even if there is a pro-independence majority in next year’s Holyrood elections.
Johnson wrote that Sturgeon had previously promised that the 2014 referendum, in which Scottish voters rejected independence by 55% to 45%, would be a “once in a generation” vote, adding: “The UK government will continue to uphold the democratic decision of the Scottish people and the promise you made to them.”
Responding to Johnson’s letter, Sturgeon accused the Tories of being “terrified of Scotland having the right to choose our own future” and lacking any positive case for the union.
“While today’s response is not surprising – indeed we anticipated it – it will not stand. It is not politically sustainable for any Westminster government to stand in the way of the right of the people of Scotland to decide their own future and to seek to block the clear democratic mandate for an independence referendum”.
Sturgeon said the Scottish government would set out its response and next steps later this month, when it will also ask the Holyrood parliament to again endorse the staging of a second independence referendum.
Despite Westminster’s chaotic handling of Brexit and Johnson’s unpopularity among Scottish voters, the anticipated long-term boost to support for independence has not materialised, with polls showing support averaging at around 48%.