Don’t deny Scots on vote push, ex-aide says

An anti-Brexit pro-Scottish independence activist holds a flag mixing the EU flag and the Scottish Saltire as she gathers for a small protest against Britain's exit from the European Union outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh on Dec 31, 2020 hours before the end of the Brexit transition period which will see Britain leave the European single market and the customs union. (PHOTO / AFP)

The British government should not deny the Scottish people a referendum on whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom if it becomes clear most people want such a vote to be held, a former Downing Street adviser has said.

Ciaran Martin, who led the UK's National Cyber Security Centre and who was constitution director in the government's Cabinet Office between 2011 and 2014, said in a report issued on Tuesday it would be disastrous for London to force a member nation to stay in the union.

Martin, who was the UK government's lead negotiator in the run-up to the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, said it is paramount that the union between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales be "based on consent" and not "based on the force of law".

He added former prime minister David Cameron faced a similar situation a decade ago to the one confronting Prime Minister Boris Johnson now, after nationalists won elections in Scotland and demanded a referendum.

The former adviser to Cameron, who is now a professor at the University of Oxford's Blavatnik School of Government, said: "There is no rational basis on which to depart from Mr Cameron's view in 2021, should it be the wish of the Scottish people that a referendum is held."

Ciaran Martin, who led the UK's National Cyber Security Centre and who was constitution director in the government's Cabinet Office between 2011 and 2014, said in a report issued on Tuesday it would be disastrous for London to force a member nation to stay in the union

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Pressure on PM

The Financial Times said his comments are sure to increase pressure on Johnson, who has pledged not to allow a second referendum following the close call in 2014, in which the Scottish people decided by a narrow margin to remain part of the union.

Johnson has said a second referendum should not be held for 40 years, even if the separatist Scottish National Party secures a massive majority in the May 6 elections for the devolved Scottish Parliament. Martin said such a move would leave separatists with no democratic route to achieving their dreams. "A century of union by consent would effectively come to an end: the union would become an entity sustained by law alone," the Financial Times quoted him as saying.

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The Scottish tabloid newspaper the Daily Record added Martin's paper does not explore the merits and pitfalls of Scottish independence but is "about how the British state faces up to the possible clash between votes and laws".

However, he notes a decision to separate from the UK would have "huge consequences" for Scotland, including the need to establish a border between the nation and England, questions about which currency would be used, and a "very challenging" financial situation for the Scottish government.

The Daily Record added that Michael Gove, the UK government's minister for the Cabinet Office, is looking for ways to improve the working relationship between Scotland and England.