Nicola Sturgeon has said a second independence referendum will be “off the table” until there is a clear majority in favour of a fresh vote, as she faced a barrage of attacks from her rivals. The Scottish National party leader was accused of misleading voters by breaking her pledges to respect the result of the 2014 vote, coming under sustained pressure from Labour, the Tories and Liberal Democrats over her planned drive this summer to build support for a new referendum. During a frequently ill-tempered debate televised by the BBC, the last before Thursday’s Holyrood election, the leaders clashed over the future of defence ship-building jobs on the Clyde, whose safety had been guaranteed during the referendum, and over health spending. But the clash over independence drew the loudest cheers from the audience. Sturgeon was accused by Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, of “trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the people of Scotland” by resurrecting the chances of a further referendum in the SNP’s manifesto for Thursday’s Scottish parliament election.
With opinion polls showing that support for independence remains just under 50%, despite the surge in overall support for the SNP and the pro-independence Scottish Greens to a total of around 60%, the SNP’s manifesto takes a cautious stance on the prospects of a second vote.
Unlike its clear pledge to stage one in the 2011 Holyrood manifesto, it does not commit the SNP to stage a referendum in this parliament: instead, it says one could be held if there is a material change in Scotland’s circumstances, such as vote to leave the EU against the wishes of Scottish voters, when or a clear popular demand for a further vote.