Fears that the UK could unravel have become subject of urgent discussion. At the end of last month, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon sent documents to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, outlining her case for indyref2, arguing that she now has an “unarguable” mandate after the SNP won 48 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the December 12 general election. However, this morning, the UK Government formally rejected her call.
Mr Johnson said a referendum would “continue the political stagnation Scotland has seen for the past decade”, and noted that the First Minister had previously pledged that the 2014 referendum would be a “once in a generation” vote.
Ms Sturgeon tweeted that the Tories were attempting to “deny democracy”.
As a constitutional stand-off between the Prime Minister and Ms Sturgeon now seems more inevitable than ever, a 2016 report has resurfaced, which could blow a hole in the SNP’s attempt to use Brexit to manufacture support for independence.
Almost six months after the EU referendum, Jim Sillars, the party’s former deputy leader, told the Telegraph his contacts in the SNP Holyrood group had told him “five or six” members had voted to leave the bloc in June.
He added that he was also told they would not go public because life would become very difficult “if you go against the leadership”.
According to the report, Ms Sturgeon attempted to play down the disclosure in the Telegraph that Alex Neil, a former minister in her administration, had voted for Brexit.
She claimed it was “no surprise” and also questioned his claim that more SNP MSPs had told him they would do the same.
Mr Neil told the publication that he made the decision to leave around 10 days before the referendum, as he questioned why rule from Brussels would be better than being part of the union.
The former health minister said he had since been approached by “a number” of Nationalist MSPs who voted for Brexit.
Mr Sillars, a close ally of Mr Neil who contrary to the SNP position campaigned for Leave, said he believed the figure was five or six, but he did not disclose their names.
Tory MSP Adam Tomkins said the former Cabinet minister’s admission blew a hole in the SNP’s attempt to use Brexit to manufacture support for independence.
He explained: “As he says, he was among 400,000 of Nicola Sturgeon’s supporters who backed Leave on June 23.
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“Britain’s decision to leave the European Union was made as much by her own supporters as it was by anyone else.
“And it now turns out that he was one of several other unknown SNP MSPs who voted for Brexit.
“How can Nicola Sturgeon use this vote to whip up grievance and claim independence must now be ‘on the table’ when several of her own MSPs backed it?
“In the Scottish Conservatives, we had Leavers and Remainers and MSPs were allowed to campaign on both sides.”
Mr Tomkins said voting Leave was “still considered a thought crime” by the SNP leadership, but now that Mr Neil had broken his silence, other SNP MSPs who backed Leave needed to “show some gumption”.
To this day, Mr Neil remains the only SNP MSP who has publicly admitted voting for Brexit.
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In the first referendum on EU membership, though, things were slightly different.
Scotland furiously and openly condemned both Labour and the Conservatives in the Seventies for seeking to “force the Scots into a European grouping against their will” and during the 1975 referendum, the UK’s northernmost country proved to be more eurosceptic than England.
According to 2017 report “Euroscepticism and Opposition to British Entry into the EEC” by the French Journal of British studies, while former Prime Minister Edward Heath was negotiating Britain’s entry to the EEC, anti European sentiment in Scotland was stronger than elsewhere in the UK.
The paper notes: “The EEC was presented as inimical to self-government, dangerous to the particular economic interests of Scotland and Wales in areas such as agriculture and fishing and as undemocratic and centralised.
“One poll in 1971 suggested that 81 percent of Scots were opposed to EEC membership.
“The official SNP line reflected this eurosceptic mood in the country and it openly condemned the “English Parties”, Labour and the Conservatives, for seeking to force the Scots into a European grouping against their will.”
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