Salmond unveils Alba Party’s plans for referendum Bill at Holyrood

The Alba Party plans to bring forward legislation at Holyrood for a referendum on extending Holyrood’s powers (PA)
The Alba Party plans to bring forward legislation at Holyrood for a referendum on extending Holyrood’s powers (PA) The Alba Party plans to bring forward legislation at Holyrood for a referendum on extending Holyrood’s powers (PA)

Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond has said his Alba Party can “propel the independence movement forward”, as it unveiled plans to lodge a referendum Bill at Holyrood.

Ash Regan, who recently defected to Alba from the SNP, is to introduce a member’s Bill in a bid to force a referendum, asking Scots if the Scottish Parliament’s powers should be extended to allow it to legislate for and negotiate independence.

The plan, announced on St Andrew’s Day on Thursday, would be for such a vote to be held exactly 10 years after the September 18 referendum in 2014, when Scots rejected independence and instead voted to stay part of the UK.

While the SNP has won every election in Scotland since then, demands for another ballot on leaving the UK have been rejected by successive Conservative prime ministers.

The Supreme Court ruled last year that the Scottish Government cannot hold a second independence vote without Westminster’s approval, but Mr Salmond – who formed Alba after leaving the SNP – said independence supporters may need to make clear they are “not prepared to take ‘No’ for an answer”.

He hailed Ms Regan’s move to Alba as a “breath of fresh air” for Holyrood.

Mr Salmond, who stepped down as first minister in 2014 in the wake of the referendum defeat, added: “This proposal can propel the independence movement forward and free it of its current inertia.”

The 2014 referendum was held after the SNP, under Mr Salmond’s leadership, won a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament in the 2011 election.

The former first minster said the current plan is “exactly the sort of initiative” he would have opted for if then prime minister David Cameron had refused to allow a referendum.

Mr Salmond added: “Indeed I had a draft with a similar question in an advanced stage of preparation – just in case.

“No doubt that fact concentrated the mind of Westminster wonderfully. If you want to end a London veto over Scottish sovereignty, then you have to make it clear that you are not prepared to take ‘No’ for an answer.

“The way to assert the sovereignty of the Scottish people is to ask the people the question on whether their own Parliament should have the powers to determine our future.”

Ash Regan campaigned for the SNP leadership earlier this year, but is now an Alba MSP (PA) (Jane Barlow/PA)

Ms Regan said: “It is Alba Party policy that at each and every election, Scotland should be offered the choice of voting for a mandate to negotiate independence.

“That is unlikely to happen at the coming general election since neither the SNP or the Greens support that proposition and have rejected the Alba Party offer of a single ‘Scotland United’ candidate standing in each constituency seeking that mandate.”

Despite that, she said there is “no reason why the independence movement should make no progress in the meantime”.

While Alba MP Neale Hanvey is seeking to pass legislation on Scottish sovereignty at Westminster, Ms Regan said the “real prospect of momentum lies here in Scotland”.

She added: “Last year’s ill-fated expedition to the Supreme Court has halted the opportunity to propose an independence referendum in the Scottish Parliament.

“However, there is nothing to stop our Parliament proposing a referendum which we believe would be within competence, and that is to ask the people whether they believe the powers of the Parliament should be extended to include the right to legislate for and negotiate independence.

“That is what my proposed new draft Bill does, and I intend to canvass public and parliamentary support for it now. It is time for the independence movement to offer our supporters the real prospect of progress.”

Alba Party chairwoman Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh hailed the plan, which was announced on St Andrew’s Day (Robert Perry/PA) (Robert Perry/PA)

Alba chairwoman Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh said the Bill is planned after the party instructed one of Scotland’s leading lawyers to examine the “legal routes forward out of the constitutional dead-end into which Scotland has been led”.

She said the opinion of Aidan O’Neill KC is that Holyrood “has the power to hold this referendum and that consulting the people on their opinion on extending the decision-making power of their Parliament is arguably within competence”.

With the Alba Party now having its first MSP, Ms Ahmed-Sheikh said that means the party has the opportunity to put a Bill forward.

She added: “The legislation proposed goes right to the heart of the issue. It would mean that exactly a decade after the first referendum, the people of Scotland would have the opportunity to articulate their view on whether the political destiny of the nation should be in Scotland’s hands.

“It will be the people’s opportunity to democratically answer the judicial overreach of the Supreme Court.

“There can be no better initiative to take on this St Andrew’s Day.”