THE SNP’s Tommy Sheppard has criticised “illegitimate” plans to bring in a new law which would require more than half of the Scottish electorate to vote for independence before it was allowed to happen.

The Edinburgh East MP branded the proposal an “undemocratic ruse” that did not make any sense in a country where voting is not compulsory.

He said it effectively meant anyone who was unable to vote would become an assumed Unionist and insisted he was a “firm believer” in the country’s future being decided by those who visit the ballot box.

The legislation – which has allegedly been floated by UK senior ministers - would also require evidence for more than a year that at least 60% of voters in Scotland want a second referendum before the UK Government would consider it.

Sheppard said: “It’s clearly a very undemocratic ruse. It effectively means everyone who is sick or who is somehow unable to participate, it is being assumed their view is supporting the Union which will not necessarily be the case.

“I’m a firm believer in history being made by those who turn up and if people chose not to participate then that is up to them, but by doing that they are giving consent to the outcome.

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“In a system where we do not have compulsory voting, it is an entirely illegitimate proposal. It’s an attempt to manipulate the democratic process.”

The proposed change is reminiscent of an amendment by the Labour MP George Cunningham that scuppered devolution for Scotland in the 1979 referendum.

A majority voted for devolution at that time but it failed because of a legislative stipulation that 40% of the total Scottish electorate had to back it.

The National: Nicola Sturgeon said fear of losing an independence referendum is not an excuse to change the rulesNicola Sturgeon said fear of losing an independence referendum is not an excuse to change the rules (Image: Unknown)

Neither the 2014 independence referendum or the 2016 EU referendum required half of the entire electorate to participate for the result to be adhered to.

The convention is that a simple majority of those who turn out to vote suffices.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the reported reform would be “a changing of the basic rules of democracy that we have all abided by for our entire lifetimes and long before that”.

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“Just because you fear losing a democratic contest, it’s not an excuse or doesn’t make it acceptable to rewrite the rules of democracy,” she added.

“It is not a sign of strength on the part of Liz Truss to talk about blocking a referendum or as some reports today suggest, gerrymandering the rules for a referendum. 

“That is a sign of fundamental weakness and a lack of confidence in her case for the Union.”

In the 2014 referendum, 85% of the electorate turned out and had the proposal applied eight years ago, the Yes side would have required more than half a million extra votes to win.