The chances of holding a second Scottish independence referendum this year are “simply none” due to the coronavirus outbreak, one of those pushing for a “plan B” has said.
Chris McEleny, the leader of the SNP group on Inverclyde Council, said it would “simply not be wise” to have another referendum campaign during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The councillor, together with SNP MP Angus MacNeil, has been pushing for the party to adopt a “plan B” – an alternative way of winning independence if Westminster continues to block Scottish demands for another vote on the future of the UK.
They had hoped the issue would be debated at the SNP conference in June but with this now postponed indefinitely due to the virus the pair have put their proposals on hold.
Mr McEleny said: “Postponing the SNP’s June policymaking conference is the right decision given the current coronavirus crisis as it is fundamental that everyone’s key priority right now must be listening to the up to date advice issued and supporting measures to address the crisis.
“However, there are still other major issues facing the SNP and Scotland which won’t go away.
“These must be addressed with democratic debate when the crisis is over and at that point we will seek to go back out across the country to speak to SNP members, and the wider independence movement, about why it’s essential we have an independence plan B to counter the anti-democratic position of Boris Johnson and his UK Government.”
He added: “The coronavirus pandemic could carry on well into summer.
“If the peak projection is June then we might only be on the other side of the curve well into the second half of the year – and that’s if management of the pandemic goes as hoped.
“We shouldn’t then diminish ourselves by pretending this doesn’t change business as usual and that there is still the prospect of a referendum this year – it does, and there isn’t.
“The chances of a referendum being agreed to by Boris Johnson were already slim to none, they are now simply none.”
Mr McEleny said: “Although there’s nothing to stop the powers over holding a consented referendum still being devolved to the Scottish Parliament, a referendum on Scottish independence deserves a level of debate that reaches every doorstep in Scotland.
“That would simply not be wise, or possible, during a pandemic of this nature.”
In this situation, he said the SNP must “focus on providing the leadership the country needs during this crisis”.
He added: “At our autumn conference, hopefully after we have got past this crisis, we can have a real debate on how we will take forward the case for independence.”
Pamela Nash, chief executive of the pro-UK camapign group Scotland in Union, said: “The only sensible course of action at this time is for the SNP to formally rule out a second referendum prior to the elections in May 2021.
“This is a time for the Scottish and UK Governments to work together in the interests of every citizen in the United Kingdom.”