Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has spoken to Prime Minister Boris Johnson after her election win (PA Wire)
Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has spoken to Prime Minister Boris Johnson after her election win (PA Wire)

Nicola Sturgeon has told how she hopes she will be the first minister to deliver independence for Scotland –

despite a key ally of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisting it is not appropriate for another referendum to be held.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove indicated the government in London would not seek to block a second Scottish independence referendum in the courts. However, he also insisted the failure by the Scottish National Party (SNP) to win an overall majority in Thursday’s Holyrood election meant the people of Scotland were not “agitating” for a referendum.

His comments came after the SNP secured a record fourth term in government in Edinburgh, with Sturgeon’s party winning 64 seats – one more than in 2016 but critically one short of a majority in the Scottish Parliament.

However, their improved performance, and the record result for the Scottish Greens – who won eight MSPs – means there is a pro-independence majority at Holyrood.

Asked if she would be the first minister to deliver independence for Scotland, Sturgeon said: “I hope so.”

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, the SNP leader said: “I have just won a landslide election and another five-year term as First Minister. I have got the energy, the appetite, to get on with the job. Firstly to get us through Covid, that is my priority, and then I hope to lead to Scotland to independence.”

Both the SNP and the Green election manifestos included a commitment to holding another independence referendum in the next five years – with Sturgeon having already said she wants such a vote to take place before the end of 2023, assuming the immediate health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has passed.

Gove insisted the results of Thursday’s elections – which also included council and mayoral votes in England as well as the Welsh Senedd – had been a “thank you” to politicians for the success of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

The parties of government in Scotland, England and Wales all performed strongly in the ballots but Gove, speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC, said that north of the border “a majority of people who voted in the constituencies voted for parties that were opposed to a referendum.”

He also stressed Sturgeon “didn’t secure a majority as Alex Salmond did in 2011” and insisted this was “a significant difference.”

When asked if the UK Government would go to court if a second referendum on Scottish independence was held, the Conservative insisted: “We’re not going near there.”

Speaking later on BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show, Gove added: “We’re not going to go down the route of talking about independence or legal challenges or anything like that when our principal focus, our exclusive attention, is going on pandemic recovery.”

Sturgeon said Scots had “voted overwhelmingly” for her party, based on a manifesto which included a commitment to “give the people of Scotland the opportunity to choose our own future in a referendum” once the Covid crisis has passed.

The SNP leader added: “The fact that we are sitting here having a debate about whether or not that outcome is going to be respected says a lot about the lack of respect for Scottish democracy that this UK Government has demonstrated for quite some time now.”

“The people of Scotland have voted for the SNP, on the strength of offering, when the time is right, an independence referendum. As in 2011, leading up to 2014, any UK Government that has any respect for Scottish democracy would simply accept that and come to an agreement with the Scottish Government that puts it beyond any legal doubt.”

However, a poll for the pro-UK group Scotland in Union found less than two- fifths (37 per cent) of Scots want a referendum within the First Minister’s preferred timetable, which would see a vote held in the first half of the next Holyrood term.

More than half (52 per cent) of Scots are against having another referendum by the end of 2023, with 10 per cent saying they did not know. Scotland in Union added the same poll showed 58 per cent of Scots wanted to stay in the United Kingdom, with 42 per cent favouring independence.

Chief executive Pamela Nash said: “The very last thing we need right now is more division in our society. The majority of Scots do not want a referendum in the First Minister’s timetable of two-and-a-half years.”

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