Michael Gove refuses to rule out legal action against SNP over another independence vote

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Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove visited Scotland today to make the case for the Union after Nicola Sturgeon’s party was victorious in the 2021 Holyrood elections. The SNP won 64 seats in the Scottish Parliament election, narrowly failing to get a majority of 65.


But with a record eight Scottish Green MSPs, Ms Sturgeon and co-leader of the Greens, Patrick Harvie claims there is a majority for independence within the new Parliament.

Following the vote, the Scottish First Minister told Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the election means now it was a case of “when not if” there is another vote on the issue.

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government would legislate for a second vote if Westminster refuses to grant a Section 30 order – the reserved powers required to hold a referendum.

However, during a briefing with Holyrood journalists today, Mr Gove said the priority should be on the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said: “Of course there is a conversation about the constitution that some people will want to have.

“But we think that is a distraction from the urgent need to make sure that we deal with backlog in NHS waiting lists, that we work together on economic recovery overall and that we also learn from each other when it comes to public sector recovery as well, whether it is in education or criminal justice.

“Our focus is purely and principally on recovery at the moment.”

The Cabinet Office Minister made clear that “politics is the language of priorities” and added: “It is not a conversation we believe is right to have at this moment because it can only be a diversion of energy and attention at a time when there are far more pressing issues.”

When asked if the UK Government would take legal action to block a second referendum, Mr Gove said he was “not a legal expert” and added: “I’m not getting into the whole question of court and litigation and all the rest of it, because if we start theorising in the area then we are sucking oxygen out of the room when we should all be concentrating on recovery.

“Other people I am sure will want to speculate or theorise about these questions, but to my mind, every second spent asking questions about the Supreme Court is a second wasted when it comes to concentrating on the issues in hand.”

The SNP was elected for a fourth term in power at Holyrood, on the basis of a manifesto that promised another vote on independence before the end of 2023.

Asked if the SNP had a right to implement their manifesto as a party of Government, Mr Gove added: “I think all parties will want to reflect at this time on the campaign that has been run and the priorities the public has sent them to office to fulfil.”

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The Cabinet Office Minister also claimed that his interpretation of the Scottish election campaign was that the Scottish First Minister “clearly put a focus on COVID-19 recovery.”

He stressed: “There are people in Scotland who have voted because they wanted to see continuity and cooperation in the fight against COVID-19 and recovery.”

Mr Gove went on to say that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was “very passionate” about the United Kingdom stressing the Government have a “responsibility for everyone” in the UK.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said the priority is for the UK to come out of the pandemic and “build back better together”.

He told a Downing Street press conference: “I had good conversations with all the heads of the devolved administrations and I can tell you everybody was resolved that the number one priority for the whole of the UK was to build back better, come out of the coronavirus pandemic and build back better together.”

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