Michael Gove yesterday launched his bid for the Conservative leadership by saying that he did not think Scotland would go through with a second independence referendum.
The day after he scuppered Boris Johnson’s ambition to become Prime Minister, Mr Gove pledged to build a “robust” Union between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
His promise to “renew and reboot” the Union would see control over agriculture and fishing transferring to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies.
When asked if he would “block” a Second independence referendum, he failed to answer the question directly, but said: “I don’t think we are going to have a second independence referendum.”
He said the Leave vote meant more power would come to Holyrood. “We are taking back control of policy areas like agriculture and fishing that are vital to the economies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Parliament and devolved assemblies can enjoy new powers in these and other areas,” he said.
The Brexiteer MP promised to make the Union work, but admitted that Scotland’s pro-EU vote raised “profound questions”. Mr Gove, who grew up in Aberdeen, launched his leadership bid in controversial circumstances. His-last minute decision to stand forced fellow Leave campaigner Mr Johnson to abandon his own attempt to enter Downing Street.
Drawing heavily on his Scottish background, Mr Gove insisted that he could bring Scotland and the rest of the UK together, despite their differing attitudes to Europe.
“We have got to be realistic about it. Scotland voted differently than the rest of the UK in the referendum and that raises profound questions,” Mr Gove said.
“We need to listen to Scottish public opinion – not just the Scottish National Party, but Scottish public opinion, business and civil society. With respect I don’t want to take any precipitate steps and the First Minister has an absolute constitutional right to do what she thinks is appropriate in these circumstances.”
I don’t think we’re going to have a second independence referendum.Michael Gove
Mr Gove claimed to have friends in the SNP and said he would respect the party, because it represented the area where his parents, Ernie and Christine, live.
Mr Gove said the decision of his parents to adopt him and his profoundly deaf sister had instilled his belief in human potential. He said: “I remember my mum explaining to me what adoption meant when I was still at primary school. Son, she said to me, you didn’t grow under my heart, you grew in it.”
He compared the Union with a family, pointing out that he felt both Scottish and British.
“In a family you listen, you treat each other with respect, you make things better... I think we need to explore how we can develop a fairly funded, flexible and robust Union for our new circumstances – and I will work across political divides, with respect, to build that new Union.”
But the SNP suggested Mr Gove’s use of the phrase “fairly funded” meant cuts to the Barnett Formula.
SNP MSP Michael Russell said: “It’s absolutely outrageous that a prospective prime minister is now using a Leave vote to imply that Scotland’s budget could be slashed – just months after the Tories agreed a new financial settlement for Scotland.”