A SECOND referendum could be held by Christmas, according to a senior SNP minister.

Mike Russell is reported to have said that another poll could be held six months after the May elections, during an online discussion event.

However Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has hit back at the suggestion, saying any referendum held without permission from the UK Government would be illegal.

HeraldScotland:

According to the Sunday Times, Mike Russell MSP, Scottish Government constitution secretary, said: “I think it’s really impossible to say when it will be. I hope very soon, but I think it is dependent upon the pandemic subsiding. Best practice for referendums suggests that six months should expire between the legislation and the referendum.”

“That six months is because electoral administrators need time to put in systems, but I do hope the new parliament moves without too much delay to that.”

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It comes after Mr Russell published an 11-point plan for a second referendum last week, arguing that the Scottish Government should legislate for another vote if the Prime Minister continues to refuse one.

The move would almost certainly prompt a legal battle between Holyrood and Westminster.

Conservative MP Mr Jack said that any attempt to hold a referendum without the UK Government granting a section 30 order – legal permission to hold a vote – would be illegal.

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He told the BBC this morning: “I’m afraid the constitution is a reserved matter, it would be an illegal referendum, let’s be clear about that.”

The Scottish Secretary said it was “not the time” for another vote on the constitution in Scotland, reiterating that senior figures in the Yes campaign and its own white paper said the vote was “once in a generation”.

HeraldScotland:

He added: “We can’t go into a process of ‘neverendums’ until eventually they get one that they win, that’s not what responsible government is about.

“We had a referendum in 2014, we’re now in a global pandemic, we’re going to have double-dip recession the way things are going.

“It’s about recovering our economy as one United Kingdom, pulling together, doing the trade deals we want to do, improving Scotland’s economy and rebuilding it as quickly as we can, and after we’ve saved people’s lives with this vaccine, then saving their livelihoods.”

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SNP depute leader Keith Brown said: “The Tories sound more rattled by the day and it’s clear they are completely out of ideas and excuses.

“Trying to block a democratic mandate is an indefensible and untenable position – the bottom line is the Tories are panicking as they run scared of a referendum they fear they will lose.

“It’s not for Alister Jack, or his boss Boris Johnson, to deny the people of Scotland the chance to determine their own future. That choice belongs to the people of Scotland and any Trump-like attempt to deny that would be utterly undemocratic – and would not hold.”