The SNP wants a second independence referendum. Boris Johnson has ruled one out. So what happens if the Scottish nationalists get a majority at Thursday's Holyrood elections? Nicola Sturgeon has indicated that she will hold a vote — with or without Westminster's legal consent.
So Mr S decided to ask the Cabinet Office and the Scotland Office how they would respond to an unsanctioned Catalan-style referendum. In response to a Freedom of Information request, both departments said that they did not hold any contingency documents outlining the UK government's response to an unauthorised vote. (It's worth noting too that if such plans did exist, the departments would have to say so even if they decided such documents were exempt from disclosure). The Cabinet Office explained:
“The Cabinet Office does not hold information, created since 1 January 2020, on the UK Government’s response to an unsanctioned independence referendum... The UK Government believes a divisive referendum on Scotland’s separation from the UK at this time would be an irresponsible distraction from the necessary work of recovery. The United Kingdom is currently recovering from the worst public health crisis in a century. The people of the United Kingdom want to focus on fighting Covid, protecting jobs with furlough payments, ensuring children can catch up on their missed education, and finding jobs for young people.
Meanwhile, the Scotland Office replied using the same phrase that the Secretary of State for Scotland considered an unsanctioned referendum to be an 'irresponsible distraction from the necessary work of recovery.' The Home Office is yet to respond.
Perhaps it's unsurprising that government departments have avoided laying out their plans for a wildcat referendum. The 2017 Catalan vote saw violent clashes with police and officers storming polling stations.
But Mr S can't help but wonder whether it's a good idea for the national government to ignore the possibility of a breakaway vote. The decision by David Cameron and George Osborne to block contingency planning in the event of a Brexit vote arguably damaged the UK's position early on in the negotiations. Shouldn't Whitehall have some kind of contingency plan if the nationalists attempt to remove Scotland without going through the proper processes?