Alex Salmond’s calls for independence negotiations to begin the week after next month’s Holyrood election have been dismissed by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Mr Salmond is hoping his new Alba Party can help see a so-called “supermajority” for independence elected, believing this can lead to the start of discussions with Westminster for Scotland to break away from the rest of the UK.
The former first minister, who is bidding to return to Holyrood as an MSP for the North East region, believes peaceful protests and legal action could also be used in pursuit of independence.
But his calls have been flatly rejected by Ms Sturgeon, his successor as both SNP leader and First Minister.
She made clear that the only way she can see independence being achieved is if a majority vote for it in a “legal, legitimate process”.
She insisted it is not possible to “bulldoze your way to independence”, and she said she has a “duty to be straight with people” on this.
Speaking about what could happen if Boris Johnson continues to refuse permission for another referendum – even if the next Scottish Parliament has a majority of pro-independence MSPs – Ms Sturgeon said it could end up in court.
But she said she believes Conservative politicians are privately now preparing for such a vote to be held.
If the SNP is returned to power on May 6, and the Prime Minister continues to block a second referendum – as he has said he will do – Ms Sturgeon said her government could take legislation for a vote through Holyrood.
She added: “If Boris Johnson wanted to stop that he would presumably have to legally challenge it, in which case we would vigorously defend our position.
“But that would be an absurd position for a Prime Minister to get himself into in the face of a democratic majority.”
The SNP leader, speaking to the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists’ Association, said: “Time will tell, I don’t think that is the situation we will be in.
“I strongly suspect, based on some of what I hear that is under discussion in the depths of the Tory Party and Whitehall at the moment, they know an independence referendum is coming and they are already moving into how they would attempt to fashion the question, the franchise and the rest of it.”
Despite her desire for independence, she is dismissive of Mr Salmond’s suggestion that negotiations could take place without another referendum being held.
“I don’t think what has been put forward by the Alba Party so far is credible,” the First Minister said.
“You have to have a majority. We are a democracy, I have wanted independence my whole life, but that is not enough. I have to persuade a majority of people in Scotland to want it too, so you have to have a majority wanting it and prepared to vote for it.
“And then you have to have a legitimate process in which that majority can be demonstrated. That is what a referendum offers.
“Yeah, you can have a peaceful street protest but how does it enable you to go to the European Union or anyone else and say actually, we demonstrated majority support for independence.”
Ms Sturgeon was clear that Scotland could only become independent “when a majority of the people of Scotland want that, and vote for that in a legitimate process that will be accepted here at home and also accepted internationally”.
She continued: “The way we overcome Westminster opposition to a referendum, helpfully, is also the way we win the referendum, which is continuing to persuade people, to win people’s confidence and trust and build that majority support for independence.
“As it happens, that’s what the SNP under my leadership has actually been doing for the last couple of years.”
Speaking about the election, she said: “It does come down to a choice. You can vote for somebody that is offering serious leadership, recognising that you have to do the hard work to overcome challenges, or you can vote for folk that want to offer deceptively simplistic soundbites to actually quite complex challenges.
“That applies to Covid, it applies to getting us through recovery, and it applies to actually achieving independence.”