A second Scottish independence referendum will not take place “until the Brexit process has played out”, Theresa May has pledged in the Conservative manifesto.
Prime Minister Theresa May launched a manifesto under the banner “Forward, Together” that makes clear a second referendum cannot take place “until the Brexit process has played out”, and should not be considered “unless there is public consent for it to happen”.
The Scottish Secretary David Mundell clarified this meant Mrs May’s government would reject calls to grant permission for the vote until the conclusion of any transitional Brexit deals and the devolution of EU powers to Scotland, a process set to take the lifetime of the next parliament.
Asked whether the Conservatives were ruling out granting permission for a second independence referendum until 2022, Mr Mundell said: “It’s quite clear that the Brexit process isn’t just the negotiations, it’s the transition, and it’s the implementation period.
“People will want to see what additional powers the Scottish parliament will have, in terms of their thoughts on constitutional arrangements. How can people decide until they see what exactly is going to happen?”
Mr Mundell added that there were “many ways” in which public consent could be evaluated, leaving open the possibility that the UK government could set the SNP winning a majority at the next Scottish election in 2021 as a precondition for granting a Section 30 order to allow a referendum to take place.
The Prime Minister went to the Labour marginal seat of Halifax to pledge that her government would put “the hopes and aspirations of ordinary working people” at the heart of a plan to “build a great meritocracy here in Britain”.
Mrs May said she was being “upfront and honest” about the challenges facing the UK with a manifesto that scraps a previous pledge not to raise income tax or national insurance, waters down the triple lock that keeps pensions rising, imposes means testing on free school meals and winter fuel allowance in England, and asks English middle class voters to pay more for elderly care. However, it failed to set out detailed tax plans.
A pledge in the past two Conservative manifestos to cut net migration to below 100,000 is retained, despite the government having failed to reach the target since 2010.
On Scotland, the manifesto says a new Conservative government would take a greater role in devolved areas, ending what it said had been an attitude of “devolve and forget”.
“This Conservative government will put that right,” the manifesto states, with a pledge to “be an active government, in every part of the UK”.
On Scottish independence, the manifesto states: “We have been very clear that now is not the time for another referendum on independence.
“In order for a referendum to be fair, legal and decisive, it cannot take place until the Brexit process has played out and it should not take place unless there is public consent for it to happen.”
UK contributions to the EU structural fund will be redirected into a United Kingdom Shared Prosperity Fund that will “continue to provide investment for development in deprived regions of the country and reduce inequality”.
The manifesto pledges to shift parts of government out of London, moving civil service jobs and headquarters of arms-length bodies out to all regions of the UK.
A Borderlands Growth Deal will provide councils on both sides of the Border between Scotland and England with funding to invest in economic growth similar to deals agreed with councils in Glasgow and Aberdeen, the manifesto says.
And it promises to “protect the interests of Scottish farmers and fishermen” in designing new agricultural policies to replace EU rules, while using UK “muscle” to promote Scottish exports.
SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson claimed the Conservatives would have “no basis” to “thwart the will of the Scottish Parliament” on a second independence referendum if they failed to win the general election in Scotland.
Mr Robertson said: “The Tory manifesto is a cruel and callous attack on families – with deep austerity cuts that will hit pensioners, families, and our public services.
“Theresa May talked about ‘hard choices’ – and these will affect pensioners, disabled people, the vulnerable, and those on middle and low incomes.
“We know the devastating reality of seven years of Tory government – working families hammered by cuts to tax credits, low-income families forced to rely on foodbanks, and disgraceful Tory policies like the bedroom tax, the rape clause, and the cuts to disabled mobility support.”
Mr Robertson added: “The Tories have made a rod for their own back, because if they now fail to win the election in Scotland they have no basis whatsoever on which to continue to thwart the will of the Scottish Parliament.”
Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the manifesto gave detailed costings for just one of its policies, and called it an “84-page blank cheque”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Millions of pensioners are betrayed by Theresa May’s manifesto. She is hitting older people with a classic Nasty Party triple whammy: Scrapping the triple lock on pensions, removing the winter fuel allowance and forcing those who need social care to pay for it with their homes.