The Scottish Parliament has backed the idea of planning another independence referendum despite accusations it is “reckless and damaging” to do so during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Scottish Conservatives said the SNP’s recent announcement of an independence taskforce and a route map for a vote on independence was “not just unfathomable, but unforgivable”.
But in a parliamentary debate, a Tory motion calling for the Scottish Government to create a vaccine taskforce rather than one to plan another referendum campaign was rejected by MSPs.
The failed motion called for Parliament to agree that “planning an independence referendum in 2021, during an ongoing global pandemic, would be reckless and damaging”.
Instead, an SNP amendment stating “there can be no justification whatsoever to deny people in Scotland their democratic rights” if there is a pro-independence majority after May’s Holyrood election passed by 65 votes to 56
Opening the debate, the Scottish Conservatives’ health spokesman Donald Cameron said: “After everything Scotland has gone through and is still going through, it simply beggars belief that this Government thinks it’s right to talk about IndyRef2 at this point in time.
“For some completely unfathomable reason, the SNP have chosen the middle of a global pandemic as the right time to serialise their never-ending obsession with independence.
“That’s not just unfathomable, but unforgivable.”
Urging the Government to focus on the vaccination programme, Cameron listed examples of appointment delays, discrepancies and apparent concern from GPs about the supply of the vaccine.
“All of this points to a disorganised rollout process with no clear direction or leadership and it also does not bode well for the future, when we get to the next priority groups in the coming weeks and months,” he said.
Cameron suggested it was “abundantly clear” Scots wanted the Government to “focus on rolling out vaccines, reducing the numbers of deaths and cases of Covid-19 and rebuilding our economy”.
He added: “Whatever your view on the constitutional debate, we urge the Scottish Government: pause, reflect and realise what is at stake if we take our eye off the ball at this critical juncture of the pandemic.
“Now is not the time to divide communities all over again.
“Instead, now is the time to unite people across this country, as we hopefully enter the final chapter of our collective struggle against the pandemic that has brought so much sadness across Scotland.”
Constitution Secretary Mike Russell defended the Government’s vaccine rollout amid concerns about delays and slow progress compared to the rest of the UK, and accused the Scottish Conservatives of having a “fear of democracy” over its opposition to an independence vote.
“The Government is doing precisely what the motion calls for; we are tackling (the) pandemic, investing economic recovery, delivering a vaccination programme, which is saving lives and helping Scotland’s return to some form of normality over the coming months,” Russell said.
“Sadly the pandemic is not the only issue the country is having to deal with.
“The pandemic is an external crisis, but there’s another crisis that has been inflicted on us by the Tory UK government.
“The UK Tory insistence, backed by the Scottish Tories, on a reckless decision to press on with the end of the transition period for leaving the EU – even in the face of this unprecedented economic, social and health crisis – has caused, is causing, and will cause untold economic and social damage.”
Russell continued: “It is for the people of Scotland to decide what country and economy should be built following the pandemic.
“That is why, if there is in the next parliament a majority for an independence referendum that would allow us to become a normal small state within Europe, living in harmony and equity with our neighbours, then I believe that Parliament has an absolute right to take the matter forward. That’s democracy.”