THE new Presiding Officer in the Scottish Parliament may have a key role to play in a bill that would give Holyrood the ability to legislate for a second independence referendum.

Alison Johnstone took on the Presiding Officer role last month and it could become crucial in deciding whether a Holyrood bill on indyref2 could be put before MSPs.

Johnstone was elected as a Scottish Greens MSP for the Lothian region but gave up her party affiliation to take on the role of Presiding Officer.

She has insisted that she has not given any thought to whether such a bill falls within the Holyrood’s remit, saying she had already had a “lot to get my head around” since taking on her new role.

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Unionists say the Scotland Act, which set up the Scottish Parliament, leaves constitutional issues reserved to Westminster

Pro-independence parties - SNP and Greens - have a majority of 71 out of 129 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, but there would need to be new legislation passed for MSPs to legally create a referendum on Scottish independence.

The National:

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Asked about the possible competence of such a bill, Johnstone (above) told the PA news agency: “I will deal with that as and when it arises.

“At the point in time of any bill coming before me with a question of legislative competence, I am well briefed by expert advisers, and to be honest as you will appreciate since the parliamentary elections, since the PO [Presiding Officer] elections, I have had a lot to get my head around.

“I am meeting and learning from people across the parliamentary estate every day, just getting to meet all the group heads, people I have seen working across the building for a long time.

“I am learning in-depth what is they do, what they bring to the Parliament each and every day.”

The Presiding Officer has a legal duty to state whether or not they believe a bill would be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.

Even if their view is that a bill is outwith Holyrood’s remit, a Presiding Officer has no veto and proposed legislation can still proceed, with MSPs voting to determine whether it should be passed at each stage.

If a bill is then passed, it would be for the courts to decide whether it is lawful if it were challenged.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already declared she wants to have a second independence referendum though she says this would only be held after the immediate crisis caused by coronavirus is over.

The Scottish Greens are also looking for indyref2 to take place within the next five years of this parliamentary term, but agree with the SNP that it should be after the Covid pandemic has eased.

Meanwhile, Johnstone stressed she was keen to ensure debates on this issue, and others, are conducted in a “respectful and courteous manner”.

She stated: “We’re leading the debate in Scotland so I think it is important we set a good example and show you can robustly disagree with one another but you can do that in a courteous manner.”