Boris Johnson: No second Scottish independence referendum until 2055
Nicola Sturgeon was weighing up keeping schools shut until the February half term and ordering Scots to stay at home as she prepared to unveil even harsher Covid lockdown restrictions. The First Minister will hold a meeting of her Cabinet on Monday morning to approve new restrictions, before making an emergency statement to Holyrood at 2pm. Sources close to Ms Sturgeon told the Telegraph she was examining extending the closure of schools from Jan 18 to the end of the month, or after the February half-term break, but with a promise to reopen them sooner if the situation improved. They said she was considering how to strengthen her call for Scots to voluntarily stay in the areas around their homes and stricter limits on meeting others outdoors. The public could also be asked to wear face coverings in a wider array of settings, including outside, as already happens in some Continental countries. Although all of Scotland is already in the highest tier 4 of Ms Sturgeon's lockdown system, the First Minister is concerned the restrictions are not enough to control the spread of the new, more transmissible variant.
Johnson has absolutely no answer on why Scotland should be denied its democracy other than we have ‘had a vote’. This is where we could soon be. It won’t be saying ‘no’ to a referendum it will be saying ‘no’ to democracy itself. That’s a tough place for him to be. #marr
— Pete Wishart (@PeteWishart) January 3, 2021
But Jim Sillars, one of Mr Brown's predecessors, urged Ms Sturgeon to "de-prioritise" independence and focus instead on tackling the economic devastation caused by the Covid pandemic.
Writing ahead of May's Holyrood election, Mr Sillars said the First Minister should make another referendum sixth on her list of priorities for the next parliament behind dealing with an unemployment "time bomb" and spiralling public debt.
Ms Sturgeon has said she plans to seek a mandate for voters for another independence vote, which she hopes to use to force Mr Johnson into giving her the powers for a legal referendum.
A series of opinion polls have shown majority support for separation, and the SNP on course for a landslide Holyrood majority. However, the polls also indicate that another referendum is a low priority for most people.
The BBC's Andrew Marr challenged Mr Johnson about what "democratic tools" were available for Scots who had changed their minds after Brexit and now backed independence.
The Prime Minister said: "Referendums in my experience, direct experience, in this country are not particularly jolly events. They don't have a notably unifying force in the national mood, they should be only once in a generation."
Asked about the difference between staging a referendum on EU membership and denying one on Scottish independence being requested, he said: "The difference is we had a referendum in 1975 and we then had another one in 2016. That seems to be about the right sort of gap."
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) January 3, 2021
Writing in the Sunday Times, Mr Sillars said Ms Sturgeon shelving her referendum plans for the time being would "bring her into line with the public's view".
But the veteran nationalist admitted that she and Ian Blackford, the SNP's Westminster leader, were unlikely to agree after firing up their activists to expect an early poll.
He said: "It would take a level of wisdom and courage so far missing to talk them down to the new reality that there will not be a binding independence referendum in 2021 or likely in 2022."
Mr Sillars said voters face a choice in May's election between an SNP administration whose recent record is "the epitome of incompetence" or one of the opposition parties "whose own incompetence is staggering."
Mr Brown said: "It may be a new year but it's the same old incoherent bluster from Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister pretends otherwise but he knows he can't keep on denying democracy.
"Even his American pal Donald Trump has learned that if you try to stand in the way of the democratic choice of a nation you get swept away."