Speculation over whether Downing Street will sue the Scottish government to prevent it from legislating for a second independence referendum is a “massive distraction” from the resumption of the pandemic, said Michael Gove.
After the Scottish National Party’s victory in Thursday’s Holyrood election, Nicola Sturgeon indicated she was ready for a constitutional battle, saying her government would legislate for the vote “and that if Boris Johnson wanted to stop he would have to go to the law courts”.
But Gove told Sky, “I can’t believe people who worry about their jobs, extended holidays, what happens to their children’s education… I can’t believe the answer to all of them. these things be a long debate on the constitution. “
Asked whether it was undemocratic to ignore a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament – made up of the SNP and Scottish Green MPs – Gove replied: ‘If you look at the votes cast in constituencies in Scotland , more people voted for parties opposed to an independence referendum than those who could hold the prospect.
The Cabinet Office minister added that “the SNP did not get a majority in this election and also, critically, we have had a campaign in which all party leaders agree that the most important thing was to do in the face of the pandemic ”.
Gove also asserted that the SNP had not put independence “at the center of the showcase” of its campaign, although the promise to push for a second referendum featured prominently in the party’s manifesto and in the electoral literature.
As the party lost a seat below the majority after the final results were announced on Saturday night, analysts point out that securing an outright majority is difficult in Scotland’s proportional voting system, although it has was done by the SNP in 2011.
Pressed later by the BBC’s Andrew Marr on whether the UK government would take the Scottish government to court to prevent it from legislating for an independence referendum, Gove played down the possibility, saying, “No … but what is extremely important is a recognition from all of us as political leaders, whatever parties we come from, that the priority at the moment is not court cases, it is is not independence legislation, it is the way out of the pandemic.
Sturgeon, also addressing Marr, said: “It would be absurd and completely scandalous to get to this point.” “We made a clear commitment first – and that’s what I actually agree with much of what Michael Gove said – to continue to guide the country through the Covid pandemic,” she added.
“If we get to this point [of a court challenge] then Scotland will find itself in a situation where it is told that it does not have a democratic path to become an independent country … it would be such a serious and undemocratic situation that I do not believe that on both sides other person does not want her to surrender this point. ”
She stressed that she was not proposing a referendum “at this very moment”. Throughout the campaign, Sturgeon said his government would only do this once “once the Covid crisis is over.”
Sturgeon also confirmed she would attend Boris Johnson’s proposed four-country recovery summit on Saturday, in a letter that struck a more conciliatory tone than the day before when the PM called a new referendum “irresponsible and reckless” . Gove also told Marr that it was essential to “work together as Team UK”.
Asked by Marr if she was going to be the first minister to deliver independence, Sturgeon replied, “I hope so. I just won a crushing election and another five-year term as Prime Minister. I have the energy, the appetite, to do the job, but first to get us Covid, it’s my priority. “