The Scottish Greens have included an unambiguous demand for a second independence referendum in their manifesto for elections next month, making clear they will back the Scottish National party’s push to leave the UK if they retain the balance of power in the parliament at Holyrood.
The Green manifesto, published on Wednesday, said independence would give Scotland the tax powers needed to create a fair and stable economy and to ensure a route back to EU membership. It said a referendum should be held during the Scottish parliament’s next five year term.
The minority SNP government has relied on Green members of the Scottish parliament to ensure majority support on constitutional issues since 2016. Polls suggest the SNP may win a majority in its own right on May 6, but that if it falls short Greens support for independence could again be crucial.
Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, has said repeatedly he would not approve a rerun of the 2014 Scottish referendum, in which voters rejected independence by 55 to 45 per cent. But the Greens said Johnson’s position would not be sustainable if most MSPs backed a second vote on the issue.
“For Westminster to ignore [a pro-independence] majority would be politically untenable and an insult to our democracy,” said Patrick Harvie, Scottish Greens co-leader.
After the UK vote to leave the EU in 2016, which was strongly opposed in Scotland, the Scottish Greens backed calls for a second independence referendum. However, pro-union opponents pointed then to the party’s earlier 2016 Scottish election manifesto, which suggested another independence vote should happen only if there was evidence of public demand such as a mass petition.
Wednesday’s manifesto says unambiguously that an independence referendum should be held during the next parliamentary session, which will run to 2026, with the question and timing to be decided by a “simple majority” of Holyrood MSPs.
Analysis by the Financial Times suggests that the fiscal and economic costs of leaving the UK have grown greatly since 2014, even if many previous favourable SNP assumptions about how independence would be managed are accepted.
However, the Greens’ manifesto did not address those issues, such as how to substitute for current substantial net funding transfers from England or the economic effect of creating a hard border with what is by far Scotland’s biggest trading partner.
“This is not a manifesto for independence, this is a manifesto for a fair and green recovery from Covid,” said Lorna Slater, Greens co-leader. “The question of independence is about whether the people of Scotland have the right to choose which governments are making the decisions about their recovery.”
The Scottish Conservatives said the Greens were “no different” from the SNP in trying to “force through another damaging independence referendum when all our focus should be on recovery”.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader accused the Greens of “economic illiteracy”, which he said was “evident in respect of their referendum demands with no explanation about the complex and fundamental issues around GDP, debt, deficit or currency”.
The Greens have previously used their Holyrood swing vote to push the SNP to introduce policies such as free bus travel for young people. On Wednesday they said they would press the governing party for more ambitious action on climate change and on economic inequality.
The manifesto called for more progressive income tax rates, a one-off business tax on windfall pandemic profits and a new levy on frequent flyers on international routes.