No pro-union boost for Sunak or Truss as ex-SNP aide labels indyref2 bid 'waste of time and money'

Both Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss as Prime Minister could see a drop in support for the union at a second independence referendum, a new poll has suggested.

It comes as a former senior adviser to the SNP labelled the decision to refer the question of whether Holyrood can legislate for a referendum to the Supreme Court a “waste of time and money”

The poll, undertaken by Panelbase for the Sunday Times interviewed 1,133 adults in Scotland, and showed support for independence at 49 per cent and 51 per cent for the union with don’t knows excluded.

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However, with Liz Truss as Prime Minister, voters say they would back Yes at 52 per cent and No at 48 per cent, with Rishi Sunak on slightly better on Yes 51 per cent and No 49 per cent.

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It comes as the two prospective replacements for Boris Johnson continue to jostle on the best approach to Nicola Sturgeon.

The foreign secretary told activists she would simply “ignore” the First Minister, while the former chancellor said he would “take her on and beat her”.

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Ms Truss has also said she wishes to brand the SNP as “separatists” rather than nationalists in a bid to weaken the appeal of independence, with her key ally Lord Frost last week stating it was time to “start fighting back” against the party.

Mr Sunak has instead sounded closer to the policy from Michael Gove which preferred quietly getting on with demonstrating the benefits of the union through direct investment from the UK Government into Scottish councils and charities.

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Nicola Sturgeon will face a new Prime Minister in September, either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak

Polling guru Sir John Curtice said: “Simply arguing that another referendum should not be held at all seems unlikely to win many converts. While 44 per cent oppose a referendum in the next five years, 48 per cent are in favour.

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“Ultimately the Union will only be safe if people in Scotland come to believe in it. But it is far from clear that the next prime minister will have the right strategy to achieve that.”

The poll also comes after Alex Bell, a former Scottish Government special adviser under Alex Salmond and a negotiator of the Edinburgh Agreement in 2014 which led to the first referendum, said Nicola Sturgeon knows a referendum bill is unlawful and a waste of money.

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He said the First Minister has known since 2007 that a referendum “is Westminster’s call”, and that pursuing the question is merely a “piece of theatre designed to disguise how the SNP has failed nationalists”.

Referencing the lack of a referendum bill under Mr Salmond during the first SNP government, Mr Bell said “the reason was simple”.

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He added: “Advice from officials, including informal legal advice, was that Holyrood’s lawyers would reject the bill on the ground that it went beyond the competence of the parliament.

“Salmond and Sturgeon knew of this, but it’s not clear whether the cabinet did. Nobody told the party. Loyalists put the delay of the referendum bill down to Salmond’s cunning — a misreading that neither the party nor its opponents challenged.”

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Following the SNP’s unprecedented landslide in 2011, there was another recommendation from Scottish Government lawyers that a bill would be unlawful.

Mr Bell wrote: “The same team of officials in the small constitution team advised that the only option was to ask a roundabout question — for example, to hold a referendum on whether the parliament should have the power to demand independence.

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"This would become a de facto indy vote. The risk was that it might also be ruled illegal, and if not that opponents would boycott it.”

He added what he believes to be an inevitable defeat at the Supreme Court would see the “Salmond, Sturgeon and Swinney era will end in ignominy”.

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The former adviser added: “The present political myth is that the Tories ignore Scotland and Labour betrayed us. In time, the SNP leadership will join this list of disappointments.”

Responding, the SNP’s depute Westminster leader, Kirsten Oswald, said that the poll demonstrated people in Scotland were “sick [and] fed up of disastrous Tory politicians they didn’t vote for” and that it was “further proof” of a desire for independence.

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She said: “On one side we have a law-breaking former Chancellor who consistently refused to implement meaningful support for the most vulnerable, exacerbating the already spiralling Tory-made cost of living crisis, all while standing by the disgraced Boris Johnson all the way to the bitter end.

“And on the other side we have a poundshop Thatcher tribute act determined to shirk responsibility for the mess the UK is in, and ignore Scotland’s democratically elected First Minister and the people of Scotland’s mandate for an independence referendum.

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“While both candidates squabble in their protracted distraction of a leadership election, vulnerable households are doing what they can to gear up for a brutal winter defined by soaring energy bills and difficult choices between whether to heat or eat.

“So far neither Sunak or Truss has offered up the prospectus to prevent that miserable reality from coming to fruition and plunging millions more into poverty and destitution.

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“It makes sense we’re seeing an increase in support for the SNP and independence as a means to escape the sinking ship that is the UK, and Scots will have the chance in a referendum next year to grasp that opportunity and end undemocratic Tory rule over Scotland once and for all.”

Scottish Conservative constitution spokesperson Donald Cameron MSP, said: “A majority of Scots have made it consistently clear that they do not want the SNP to pursue another divisive referendum next year.

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“We know that the SNP Government’s own Lord Advocate had significant doubts over their legal case for a referendum and now that view has been shared by a former senior adviser.

“The fact that someone who was involved in negotiating the 2014 referendum has poured scorn on Nicola Sturgeon’s case should strike a chord with her.

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“She should stop playing these political games and instead fully focus on the real priorities of Scots, such as supporting people through the cost-of-living crisis and tackling the growing backlog in our NHS.”

The fifth episode of the brand new limited series podcast, How to be an independent country: Scotland’s Choices, is out now.

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It is available wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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