Westminster diary: Reaction to Sturgeon indyref2 plan & coal mine countdown

Credit: PA

On Tuesday, Nicola Sturgeon set the date for when she hopes to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence - 19 October 2023.

More significantly, she revealed that the question of whether the vote would be legal, without UK government consent, was being referred to the Supreme Court.

If it's judged not to be legal, the First Minister said the SNP would fight the next general election as a "de facto referendum."

Ms Sturgeon's announcement is said to have surprised, or even wrong-footed, her adversaries at Westminster - but perhaps only briefly, with few clear consequences, at least for now.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack was tied up on official duties in Edinburgh with the Queen visiting, while Boris Johnson was between international summits in Rwanda, Germany and Spain this week.

Minister Iain Stewart took the lead at Scotland Office questions on Wednesday morning, and said: "What the people of Scotland want are their governments... to be working together on addressing the issues that matter to them."

Deputy PM Dominic Raab then fielded Prime Minister's Questions and said: "it is not the right time for another referendum."

So, no change to the UK government's political arguments, and none expected even as Mr Jack and Mr Johnson surely see the question of independence move back towards the top of their in-trays.

With the Supreme Court expected to examine the case this autumn, it will soon be legal arguments to the fore.

This week saw notably strong criticism of plans for a new coal mine in West Cumbria - from a notably eminent source.

Lord Deben, chairman of the Climate Change Committee, who are official advisors to the UK government, described the mine as "absolutely indefensible."

He said it would undermine the UK's efforts to lead the way on tackling climate change, and most of the coal it produced would be exported.

The mine was not directly mentioned in the committee's big annual progress report on Wednesday, but his remarks came in briefings and interviews connected to it.

It's perhaps little surprise that the committee and its chairman would put climate concerns first when it comes to the mine, but it's also worth noting that Lord Deben was a Conservative Environment Secretary in the 1990s, when he was known as John Selwyn Gummer.

Reacting on Wednesday, Conservative elected mayor of Copeland Mike Starkie described Lord Deben's comments as "quite frankly ridiculous."

He told us: "This coal mine is going to bring to Whitehaven £160m of private investment, it's going to bring about 1,500 well-paid jobs when you take some of the supply chain into account, and the effects on climate change are negligible."

It seems increasingly likely Mr Starkie's side of the argument will come out on top.Later on Wednesday, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told ITV's Peston programme: "there is a strong argument to say that if we didn't have it here we would simply be importing the coal."

I wrote last week about similar remarks made by the Prime Minister.

His Communities Secretary Michael Gove is responsible for deciding on whether to approve or block the mine.

When the planning inspector handed over his report in April, the government said "a decision will be issued on or before 7 July" - that's this coming Thursday.

So, a big week ahead for Cumbria, with the prospect of a fierce backlash and potentially a further legal challenge from whichever side of the argument Mr Gove rules against.

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