Jim Sillars stressed plans for a second Scottish independence referendum were “not a priority”, adding the focus should be on ensuring Scotland recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. The former SNP depute leader said plans for a second vote should be further down the First Minister’s priority list, signalling divides in the party over when it should take place.
Mr Sillars said it “would be wise to place independence and a referendum more like sixth on the list of priorities for the new parliament, bringing her into line with the public’s view”.
It comes as Ms Sturgeon and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said they hope to have another vote on separation as early as this year.
Writing in The Sunday Times, Mr Sillars added: “Coming off the back of a surreal year of the pandemic in which the economic base of the country has been trashed thrice, with unemployment about to explode under families and public debt reaching war-time proportions, we need a reordering of priorities as more people stare into the face of poverty.”
He said, even if the SNP won a majority of seats in May’s Holyrood’s election, there would not be a second independence referendum in 2021 or 2022.
The SNP grandee continued: “Even if the SNP won a majority of seats, there would not be a binding independence referendum in 2021 or likely in 2022.
“Look at the timetable: elections in May, while still struggling to contain the pandemic and get mass vaccination done; the damage to the economic base starting to become fully evident, with a claimant need for policies to assist in reconstruction; our children’s education still a problem; and a care home system demanding changes.
“There is enough there to justify prime minister Boris Johnson saying: “Not now, for God’s sake,” and getting nods of approval from the Scots, even if, hypocritically, in private.”
Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, agreed with Mr Sillars and said: “The First Minister should listen to this advice from a senior nationalist.
The 2014 referendum resulted in a 55.3 percent vote against Scotland going alone, with a further 17 polls this year showing support for independence.
The SNP has been approached regarding Mr Sillars comments.
The former Labour MP joined the SNP before famously winning the Glasgow Govan seat from his old party in a by-election in 1988.