Sir John Major has said that offering two votes on Scottish independence – including a confirmatory referendum once negotiations over separation are complete – could break an impasse over the future of the UK.
In a lecture on Monday night, the former Prime Minister warned that Boris Johnson’s current strategy of refusing to allow a second referendum to take place under any circumstances could play into the SNP’s hands.
Instead, he suggested that UK ministers could agree that an independence referendum takes place, but only on the condition that a second vote was later held to confirm a Yes vote so that “Scottish electors would know what they were voting for, and be able to compare it to what they now have.”
Nicola Sturgeon was one of the leading voices in favour of a ‘People’s Vote’ after the UK voted to leave the EU. Although the campaign to secure a second EU referendum failed, the arguments put forward in favour of a referendum on the final Brexit deal were similar to Sir John’s proposal for a two-vote process on independence.
Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, last week said that the UK Government would continue to refuse to allow another referendum to take place for decades, even if the SNP wins a majority at next year’s Holyrood elections.
Sir John said that while he remained a “convinced unionist”, keeping the UK together would require “consensus, consideration and consultation.”
He said: “Refusing [a referendum] might help the separatist case, by adding to the list of grievances the Scottish National Party exploit with such skill.
“The choice for the UK Government is either to agree the referendum can take place – or to refuse to permit it. Both options come with great risk.”
He suggested that the Westminster Government could agree to two votes, one upon the principle of negotiations on leaving the UK, and the second upon the outcome of them.
He added: “The purpose of the second referendum would be that Scottish electors would know what they were voting for, and be able to compare it to what they now have.
“This did not happen with Brexit: had it done so, there may have been no Brexit.”
Kirsten Oswald, the deputy leader of the SNP’s Westminster group, said Sir John’s comments should serve as a “wake up call” for Boris Johnson, claiming his pledge to block a new referendum was “undemocratic” and “straight out of the Trump playbook”.
She added: “It is not for out of touch Westminster governments to dictate the terms of a referendum or to dictate the future of the people of Scotland.”
Sir John also said the UK Internal Market Bill, which ministers have admitted will breach international law, had “damaged our reputation around the world”.
“Lawyers everywhere are incredulous that the UK – often seen as the very cradle of the Rule of Law – could give themselves the power to break the law,” he said in a pre-recorded lecture to Middle Temple on Monday evening.
“Moreover, at a moment when we need to maximise our commercial activities, this Bill has had a corrosive impact on the reputation of English and Welsh jurisdiction.
“This may have a practical cost. International dispute resolution can be conducted anywhere overseas and the Bill could erode the present pre-eminent position of the UK and, perhaps, especially London.
“Was this considered when the Bill was drafted? Was there consultation with the legal profession? If not, why not? And if there was consultation, why was it ignored?”