Alister Jack’s statement is the first time a minister has defined conditions for allowing another vote on Scottish independence to take place.
Speaking to Politico, the Scottish Secretary said support for having a referendum – rather than independence itself – would have to be at 60 per cent for a “reasonably long period”.
His comments marks a significant shift away from previous positions stated by UK Government ministers as well as Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with Mr Jack having previously suggested there should not be another referendum for 25 years.
It comes after Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the UK Government would not stand in the way of a second referendum if it was the “settled will” of the Scottish people.
Asked what would constitute the “settled will”, Mr Jack said: “If you consistently saw 60 per cent of the population wanting a referendum – not wanting independence, but wanting a referendum – and that was sustained over a reasonably long period, then I would acknowledge that there was a desire for a referendum.
“Anyone can see that.
“But that’s not where we are and it’s not how I perceive things to be.
“I think I’m broadly where the public are, which is that now is not the time to be having a referendum.
“We’ve had one, we’ve made our decision, let’s get on and rebuild the economy and rebuild people’s lives.”
The most recent published opinion poll on whether there should be a referendum was conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies on August 4 and 5.
The survey found 42 per cent support holding a referendum more than a year away but within five years, while 40 per cent said they oppose having one in this timescale.
Voting intention gave the No side a lead of 3 per cent.
Asked about Mr Jack’s comments at Friday’s coronavirus briefing, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I won’t be diverted in a Covid briefing into responding to the Secretary of State making up constitutional rules as he goes along.
"We have constitutional rules that are pretty well established in a democracy, that if a party wins the election on a particular proposition, it should get to implement that proposition.”
Ms Sturgeon has said she wants to have an independence referendum within the next five years, preferably by the end of 2023.
On Thursday the First Minister urged SNP members to back a deal with the Scottish Greens to “cement the pro-independence majority at Holyrood”.
A run of 21 consecutive opinion polls between summer 2020 and spring this year indicated a lead for the “Yes” side, but more recent surveys have indicated a small lead in favour of Scotland remaining in the UK.
A Scottish Conservatives spokesman said: “As we recover from the pandemic, the last thing Scotland needs is a nationalist coalition pursuing another divisive independence referendum.
“All of our focus must be on protecting vital jobs, rebuilding our communities and remobilising our NHS.
“All across Scotland, the Scottish Conservatives are continuing to show we are the only alternative to this damaging coalition of chaos.”