Scottish independence: Referendum over two votes backed by ex-Tory PM John Major

Westminster could agree to Scottish Government demands for an independence referendum - with a second "confirmatory" vote part of the deal, ex-Prime Minister Sir John Major has said.

Members from All Under One Banner take part in a static demonstration for Scottish independence outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Members from All Under One Banner take part in a static demonstration for Scottish independence outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

This could help focus minds north of the Border on the "virtues of the union" and ensure Scotland remains part of the UK, according to the ex-Tory leader.

The fallout of Brexit has weakened the UK and strengthened SNP demands for a second vote on leaving the UK, Sir John said in a keynote Middle Temple lecture. It has also hastened the likelihood of a vote on a united Ireland, he said.

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Sir John Major suggested a "two vote" referendum process could be staged

The former Prime Minister warned that a vote for independence would weaken Scotland and "undermine the rump of the UK”.

"I remain a convinced Unionist," he said.

"Every part of the UK is richer - and of more weight in the world - if they stay together."

Sir John was Prime Minister for seven years until 1997.

Control over the constitution in the UK is reserved to Westminster and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted he will not sanction a repeat of the 2014 vote on Scottish independence.

But with consistent polls since the start of the year showing a growing majority of Scots support independence, Sir John warns this approach could be counterproductive.

"Refusing one might help the separatist case, by adding to the list of grievances the Scottish National Party exploit with such skill," the ex-Tory leader stated.

"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. But the lessons of Brexit may offer a way ahead.

"The Westminster Government could agree for an independence referendum to take place, on the basis of two referenda. The first to vote upon the principle of negotiations and the second upon the outcome of them.

"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."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford had been among those calling for a second "confirmatory" vote on Brexit to be held with a view to reversing the process.

The former Tory leader says many in Scotland, including business leaders who have been traditionally more sceptical about independence, may support the logic of this approach.

He said: "It may focus minds away from a short-term reflex opposition to a perceived English Government, and back to the mutual and long-term virtues of the union."

Almost two-thirds of Scots voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum, but the weight of votes south of the Border swung the outcome in favour of Leave.

A majority of people in Northern Ireland also voted to remain in the EU and this, along with the growing nationalist population, has brought the prospect of a border poll - on a united Ireland - a step closer.

"The time for a poll is not yet come, but it will," Sir John warned.

"And if – when it does – the Northern Irish vote for unification, then those who ignored the warnings that Brexit posed will have to answer for the dismantling of a further part of the United Kingdom."

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