John Swinney says the Scottish Government will pursue independence on its own timescale, after senior cabinet minister Michael Gove revealed he “can’t see” Boris Johnson granting a second referendum before 2024.
Mr Gove – who is responsible for countering the push for independence – said the Prime Minister’s focus is completely on recovery from the pandemic “for the lifetime of this parliament”.
Asked in an interview in The Telegraph whether there was “any circumstance” in which Mr Johnson would approve a referendum before a May 2024 election, Mr Gove said: “I don’t think so.”
The senior cabinet minister’s remarks means the UK Government and the SNP are likely facing a huge clash, as the party has said it wants the vote in the first half of the current parliamentary term at Holyrood.
Speaking on BBC Good Morning Scotland in response to Mr Gove, Mr Swinney said the SNP government will “pursue our priorities in the timescale that we set out”.
He said that while the “early priority” is to address Covid recovery, the government will then move on to the “important questions about Scotland’s constitutional future”.
He added: “We’ll consider our steps on the basis of the plans of the people of Scotland endorsed in a very significant mandate in the election on May 6, returning more SNP MSPs to parliament than there were in the last session and giving us a resounding parliamentary mandate for a second independence referendum.
“And we will pursue our priorities in the timescale that we set out.”
After pro-independence parties won a majority in the elections to the Scottish Parliament in May, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was “a matter of when, not if” there would be a second referendum.
Ms Sturgeon has previously said the referendum should be held within the first half of the parliamentary term.
He said: “The Prime Minister is completely focused on making sure that, for the lifetime of this parliament, we increase economic opportunity, we provide people with the chance to make more of their lives, take control of their futures.
“And that’s quite rightly what the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom’s focus should be.
“It seems to me to be at best reckless, at worst folly, to try to move the conversation on to constitutional division when people expect us to be working together in order to deal with these challenges.”