Election explained: Is Conservative opposition to IndyRef2 really 'crumbling' ?

Politicians are famous for dodging questions on subjects they don't want to discuss. But there are two issues in this 2019 general election campaign that no candidate in Scotland can expect to avoid.

The first is Brexit. Are you for or against it? It's a straightforward question - even if it took some parties considerably longer than others to come up with a coherent answer.

The second is IndyRef2. The SNP wants another referendum - should one be allowed? If so, when? If not, why? Your answer will likely be linked to the party you support. Boris Johnson told the Scottish press on Monday there would not be an IndyRef2 as long as he was prime minister.

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Asked if he would ever approve the powers under the Scotland Act to hold IndyRef2, Mr Johnson said: “I’m ruling it out. I think it’s a bad idea.”

Scottish secretary Alister Jack. Picture: AFPScottish secretary Alister Jack. Picture: AFP
Scottish secretary Alister Jack. Picture: AFP

But yesterday, Alister Jack, the Secretary of State for Scotland, appeared to undermine that position when he said the SNP securing an outright majority at the next Scottish Parliament election would constitute a “democratic mandate” for IndyRef2.

Mr Jack's comments were immediately highlighted by the SNP as evidence that Mr Johnson's resistance was “crumbling” and resulted in the Scottish Tories being forced to issue a clarification.

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The Scottish Secretary initially said Mr Johnson had made “very clear” that 2014's vote was a “once in a generation decision” that should not be repeated.

“We should take away the uncertainty as we believe we should with Brexit, remove the uncertainty of independence and start growing the Scottish economy,” he told the BBC.

He then denied that the SNP winning a majority of Scotland's seats at the general election would give Nicola Sturgeon the right to seek a Section 30 order from the UK Government.

But then Mr Jack added: “The democratic mandate for a Section 30 order is a matter for 2021, and we'll see whether or not the Scottish National Party get a majority then.

“And I mean the Scottish National Party, not in collaboration with other parties, not in any alliances, but a Scottish National Party majority.”

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Richard Arkless, the SNP candidate in the constituency Mr Jack is defending, said it was "extraordinary arrogance for Boris Johnson or any other Westminster politician to try to block Scotland's democratic right to choose its own future"

He added: "Both Labour and the Tories are all over the place on this issue because their position is undemocratic, unsustainable and crumbling. A vote for the SNP will send a strong message that the future of Scotland is for the people of Scotland to decide not arrogant Westminster Tories."

So have the Tories gone soft on the Union? In short, no. The Union - and its preservation - is the rock on which the Conservatives have built their revival north of the Border.

But will they accept an IndyRef2 must happen if - and it's a big if - the SNP purposefully campaign on the issue and win a majority at the Holyrood elections in 2021? That's a whole different story.