The UK Government is “scared” of allowing a referendum on Scottish independence because it knows it will lose, the depute leader of the SNP has said.
Keith Brown made the claim in the same week the Supreme Court ruled the Scottish Parliament cannot legislate for another independence vote without express consent from Westminster.
With no such consent forthcoming, Nicola Sturgeon announced she will press ahead with plans to treat the next national poll – likely a general election – as a de facto referendum.
Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Mr Brown said the UK Government fears it could lose Scotland if it accedes to the demands of the independence movement.
“I think they know they’re going to lose this, that’s why they are doing everything they can to twist democracy, to refuse the opportunity for the people of Scotland, because they know they’re going to lose,” he told the Sunday Show.
Mr Brown pointed to a snap poll by Find Out Now for Channel 4 of 1,006 Scots, which suggested 51% would vote for the SNP if they knew their vote would be used to negotiate independence.
“(The UK Government are) scared, that’s the point,” he added.
Mr Brown also sought to tamp down talk of dissolving Holyrood and using the subsequent election as a de facto referendum, which had been posited by SNP MP Angus MacNeil following the Supreme Court ruling.
To force a Holyrood election, two-thirds of MSPs would have to vote in favour or the post of first minister would have to be vacant for 28 days.
Mr Brown said: “We do want to have a referendum next year, and we could do that still if the UK Government just agreed to the proper route they’ve agreed in the past.
“That’s the reasonable way to do it, that’s the democratic way to do it.”
First Minister Ms Sturgeon has said she is willing to speak to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak about the possibility of a Section 30 order which would grant Holyrood the necessary powers to stage a vote.
Mr Brown would not be drawn on how the votes of other parties would impact the SNP’s independence mandate, although the Scottish Greens have said any vote for them in a de facto referendum is a vote for independence.
The depute leader’s comments come after he said the Yes movement would hit “new heights” following the Supreme Court decision, which he claimed “shattered forever the notion of the UK as a voluntary union of nations”.
He added: “It also laid bare the duplicity of the Westminster parties who are flagrantly breaching their own pledges to the people to respect Scottish democracy.
“But if those same parties think that this week has ended the debate on Scotland’s future, they couldn’t be more mistaken.
“It is a movement which will hit new heights by galvanising public opinion in every city, town, village and community the length and breadth of the country.”
Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said: “With their bizarre ‘de facto referendum’ plans, the SNP have finally admitted that their constitutional obsession is the only thing that really matters to them.
“The next general election will be about kicking this economically illiterate and morally bankrupt Tory Government out of office – but only Labour can do that.
“A Labour government in Westminster will deliver the change we desperately need in Scotland and across the UK.”