A leading Conservative eurosceptic will urge the public not to be “bullied” by the SNP into voting for EU membership, arguing that Westminster can always block a second Scottish independence referendum.
Dr Liam Fox MP, a prominent campaigner for a Leave vote, will use this week’s Scottish Conservative conference to counter the SNP’s claims that a second Scottish independence poll could be triggered by a Brexit.
The former defence secretary will accuse the SNP of “sabre-rattling” following First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s suggestion that another referendum could be held if Scotland votes to stay in the EU but is dragged out against its will by votes cast elsewhere in the UK.
“It certainly doesn’t follow that a vote to leave the EU in the UK as a whole will trigger another independence referendum in Scotland,” he will say. “Of course, the SNP are sabre-rattling about it. Their obsession is with the Scottish Parliament election on 5 May and it suits their political purposes to be seen to be making threats to London.”
His speech will be made tomorrow at a fringe event at the conference before Prime Minister David Cameron arrives for the event at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh.
Mr Cameron has acknowledged there is a “concern” that an Out vote would raise the Scottish independence question again, going on to suggest that the best way to address it is by voting to stay in the EU.
Tomorrow Dr Fox, who is originally from East Kilbride, will attempt to tackle the issue head on by listing three points to those who feel they are being “bullied into making a decision on the British membership of the European Union because of threats made by the SNP”.
His first point will be that the EU decision will be made “as a United Kingdom” – rather than as a devolved nation.
“It’s technically possible that a tiny majority vote to leave in England, could be outweighed by a Scottish vote to remain, but you don’t hear politicians in England, threatening to break up the country if that were the case. That petty, negative and destructive attitude to the union, which we have come to expect, is the preserve of the SNP.”
Secondly, he will point out that power over calling a second independence referendum is still reserved to Westminster.
“There is the constitutional position that a referendum can only be legally called with the agreement of the UK Parliament. Without that it is likely that the courts would step in and use of public funds would be prevented.”
Finally Dr Fox will argue that the SNP will try to get another independence referendum anyway if they believe that circumstances would enable them to win it.