There is “no appetite” for a second referendum on Scottish independence, senior Unionist politicians have claimed in response to Nicola Sturgeon’s pledge to “restate the debate” about the country’s constitutional future.
Alistair Darling, who led the Better Together campaign in 2014, said he didn’t expect another vote on independence in his lifetime, and Environment Secretary Michael Gove said he would “bet against” another vote ever taking place.
However, the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson warned against complacency from Unionist leaders, saying support for leaving the UK remained above 40 per cent and calling for more de-centralisation to combat claims that London dominates the British economy and government.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister, Theresa May, insisted it was not the time for “another divisive referendum” on independence after the First Minister signalled that the publication of a long-awaited report by the SNP’s Growth Commission would spark Scotland’s constitutional debate yet again. The report, expected to be published on Friday, will set out plans for an independent Scotland to use the pound before a transition to a new currency.
Ms Davidson used a conference on unionism in London to state the SNP was “weaponising” Brexit to push for a fresh independence poll.
The Scottish Tory leader said Mrs May should resist any demand for another Scottish referendum, saying: “My advice to the Prime Minister is that if the question is the same, the answer should be the same.”
But Ms Davidson said that the union “continues to be under threat” in remarks at odds with Mr Gove’s claim that Brexit is bringing the UK closer together.
She called for more government agencies to be moved out of London, and even suggested a UK-wide bid to host the World Cup with each nation competing separately, and Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium hosting a semi-final.
Ms Davidson told the conference hosted by the Policy Exchange think tank: “We’ve had more devolution in Scotland, we now need more union too.
“We remain far too London-centric as a nation. No other comparable developed nation is as dominated by its capital city quite as much as we are.
“The consequence of this is that the union too often can feel like something done to people, rather than something they take part in.”
In his own speech to the event in London, Mr Gove accused the SNP of having “played with identity politics in order to advance their position”.
“I don’t think there is support for a second referendum at all,” he told the conference. “One of the lessons of the last two years is the SNP promising, threatening, holding out the prospect of a second referendum, which has actually been damaging both to the their support in Scotland but also to their capacity to govern effectively.”
Lord Darling told attendees: “I do not believe there will be another Scottish referendum in the foreseeable future – possibly not in my lifetime.”
SNP MP Kirsty Blackman accused Ms Davidson of having her “head in the sand” over the impact of leaving the EU on the devolution settlement amid the ongoing row over a Brexit “power grab”.
“At every opportunity she has let her Westminster bosses call the shots, as they try to force through the most damaging Brexit possible against Scotland’s democratic will,” Ms Blackman said.
“And while the anti-independence politicians are reduced to arguing with each other about how to mitigate the immense economic damage that Brexit will cause, independence supporters are having a debate about the immense economic opportunities and hope that independence offers. The contrast could not be starker.”