SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has issued a warning to her unionist opponents that “no politician has the right to stand in the way” of another independence referendum if Scotland votes to have a re-run.
Ms Sturgeon has faced repeated calls to reveal whether she will propose another independence referendum in her manifesto for the Holyrood election next year, amid unionist concerns that another SNP landslide could be seen as a mandate for a second referendum.
Prime Minister David Cameron flatly refused to consider another independence referendum this week, and indicated that any decision by the Scottish Government to unilaterally decide to hold a referendum would not be legitimate.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell said on Monday that he does not believe “it is for the SNP themselves to determine whether the people of Scotland are in favour of having another referendum”.
Ms Sturgeon addressed the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club this morning as part of her visit to the Chinese administrative region this week.
She said: “Two questions I get asked often these days - will there be another independence referendum and, if so, when?
“My answer is simple. It will be if and when the Scottish people decide and not a moment before.
“No politician can impose a referendum on Scotland, no matter how much some of us would like Scotland to be independent.
“And it’s worth pointing out that the reverse is also true. If the Scottish people do vote in future to have another referendum, no politician has the right to stand in their way.”
Ms Sturgeon said the election of 56 SNP MPs has “left no doubt about the desire of people in Scotland for a much more empowered Scottish Parliament”.
But she said the UK Government has blocked SNP, Labour and Liberal Democrat amendments to the Scotland Bill, insisting the desire for more powers is being frustrated by a Conservative Party which has just one MP in Scotland.
She warned the UK Government that its “unwillingness or inability” to respond to the Scottish election result, coupled with its refusal to consider the SNP’s call for a Scottish veto in the EU referendum and the drive for English-votes-for-English-laws (Evel), could cause “a swell of demand for a further independence referendum”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “That election result didn’t provide a mandate for independence or a further referendum - I was always absolutely clear about that.
“But it did reaffirm the importance of Scotland having a much stronger voice in UK affairs, and it left no doubt about the desire of people in Scotland for a much more empowered Scottish Parliament.”
She added: “The Scottish Government is arguing for a ‘double majority’ provision in (the EU) referendum. That means that the UK would only be able to exit the EU, if each nation of the UK voted to leave.
“A vote to exit across the UK as a whole - while necessary - would not be enough in itself.
“The absence of such a democratic ‘lock’ would mean that because the population of England is so much bigger than any other part of the UK - bigger in fact than the other three UK nations combined - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could find ourselves on the way out of the EU even if we had voted to stay in.
“That would clearly not be acceptable - but it is a possible scenario.
“Support for the EU has consistently been stronger in Scotland than in England in recent years.
“So if in Scotland we faced exit from the EU, effectively against our will - something which the polling suggests could happen - it would not be at all surprising if that caused a swell of demand for a further independence referendum.”
China is often criticised by social justice activists for its human rights record.
Ms Sturgeon contrasted Scotland’s “enlightened” attitude to human rights with the attitude of the UK Government to the European Convention on Human Rights.
“Whereas the UK Government frequently sounds hostile to the European Convention on Human Rights - something that virtually all European countries are signed up to - in Scotland the basic rights and standards set out in the Convention are part of the founding legislation of the parliament,” she said.
“Overall, within Scotland, the Scottish Parliament has demonstrated a twin commitment to social justice and economic prosperity.
“And internationally it has promoted positive action on issues such as climate change, equal rights and human rights. The Parliament is enabling Scotland to play its part as an enlightened, progressive, responsible global citizen.”