Michael Gove has accused the SNP of engaging in “identity politics” and said he would “bet against” a second independence referendum ever taking place.
The environment secretary, who was one of the leaders of the Vote Leave campaign in the EU referendum, said the nationalists had “played with identity politics in order to advance their position.”
Appearing at a conference on the Union and Unionism, Mr Gove twice refused to say whether Vote Leave claims that Turkey would join the EU, leaving the UK open to 76 million immigrants, were an example of identity politics.
Following Nicola Sturgeon’s comments that a long-awaited report on an independent Scotland’s economy would “restart the debate” on independence, Mr Gove said support for the SNP was in retreat.
“I don’t think there is support for a second referendum at all,” he told the conference hosted by the Policy Exchange think tank he founded.
“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.”
Hailing gains by the Tories in Holyrood and Westminster elections, Mr Gove added: “What’s striking is that some of the votes that the Scottish Conservatives won were from communities and in areas that would not be thought of normally as SNP heartlands, which were the votes of civic minded and centrist voters who wanted a strong unionist alternative to the Scottish Government and the SNP at Westminster.”
The cabinet secretary, who was raised in the Northeast of Scotland, said the SNP was guilty of identity politics despite its claim to represent ‘civic nationalism’.
“What’s striking is that if you go online… and encounter the cybernats in their natural territory, then what you don’t find is a civilised civic approach to debating, you find something very different,” Mr Gove said.
“They’re driven by a desire to divide and to exclude. The belief that you can only construct a progressive future for the people of Scotland in a separate nation is striking.
”Whenever the case is made for reform of institutions, let's say education in Scotland, the one way in which the SNP rebuts or rejects changes, for example the establishment of teach first, is that’s it’s an English import.
”The SNP tries to present as broad a front as possible… but I do feel that what the SNP has done is they’ve played with identity politics in order to advance their position.”