Nicola Sturgeon has watered down her commitment to turn the next general election into a de facto referendum on Scottish independence. The remarkable U-turn comes amid growing panic within the SNP ranks that making the general election a single-issue fight could backfire on the party. The issue was raised at this week’s meeting on the SNP’s ruling body the National Executive Committee ahead of a special party conference in March.
Following the meeting, the SNP ruling body decided on two options to put to the membership at the party conference, according to The Times.
The first would let Ms Sturgeon use a victory at the general election to pressure the Prime Minister to devolve the power to hold another referendum to Holyrood.
However, if this was blocked, the SNP would then move to turn the next Scottish Parliament election, due in 2026, into a de facto vote on independence.
The second option, which is the original proposal of treating the next general election as a de facto referendum, has been criticised by SNP MPs in recent weeks.
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The chaos is the latest blow to the independence movement, which has struggled to settle on a strategy after the Supreme Court ruled last year that Holyrood did not have the unilateral authority to hold a referendum.
Some SNP MPs fear that the de-facto referendum would cost them seats, amid a backdrop of party infighting.
Earlier this week, SNP grandee Jim Sillars said the referendum pledge was a “hostage to fortune” which could backfire on the party.
He said the party should focus its resources on growing public support for independence, calling on the party to ensure 60 percent of Scottish voters backed breaking up the UK.
He said the watered-down pledge was “a muddle and a guddle that would require the electorate to hire a Philadelphia lawyer to work out”.
The Scottish Labour MSP Sarah Boyack jumped on the news to claim it showed an SNP in crisis.
She said: “It’s plain for all to see that Nicola Sturgeon’s daft promise of a de facto referendum is in tatters.”
Former SNP chief and current Alba leader Alex Salmond said: “The feeling of the national movement is if there is to be a plebiscite election it should be a Holyrood election, it should be held this year on October 19th, the date proposed for a referendum.”