The Tory leader in Scotland called for Labour and other parties to join him in a boycott of any attempt by Nicola Sturgeon to call a wildcat referendum on independence.
Douglas Ross said his party would not take part in any vote not sanctioned by Westminster as the Scottish National Party threatened to hold one whether it was given permission or not.
And he called for his political opponents to join him in refusing to lend legitimacy to the separatist project to break up the United Kingdom.
Under UK law the prime minister has to give permission for a referendum, but Boris Johnson has constantly refused to agree to SNP demands for a rerun of the 2014 vote.
Ahead of an expected visit to Scotland this week by the Prime Minister, Mr Ross told an online event for a think tank that if the 2014 vote had been the ‘gold standard of referendums’ then ‘no-one who believes in democracy should enter into this wildcat referendum that would have no actual bearing in terms of the outcome, would not be enforceable’.
He added: ‘It is moving all the focus away from what Scottish politicians should be concentrating on right now: protecting jobs, improving the economy, supporting communities right across the country, making sure our education system is fit for our young people.
‘That is where the focus should be, not on wildcat referendums, which I would absolutely boycott because they would be an absolute waste of precious time and resources when our focus should be on defeating Covid-19, rolling out the vaccine and concentrating on our economic recovery.’
Mr Johnson is expected to head north this week,
A survey by Panelbase for the Times at the weekend found that he has a -44 rating for his handling of the pandemic among voters in Scotland, compared to Ms Sturgeon’s +36.
The Prime Minister (pictured today in north London) lashed out at Scotland’s First Minister after her Scottish National Party threatened to unilaterally call a new referendum on splitting up the United Kingdom.
Ms Sturgeon used an interview yesterday to claim Mr Johnson ‘fears the verdict and the will of the Scottish people’
A poll in the Sunday Times shows indicates a vote for independence would have the backing of the Scottish people and that a referendum should be held in the next five years
UK stronger together in fight against Covid, says Matt Hancock
Health Secretary Matt Hancock insisted the ‘UK is stronger together in the fight against’ coronavirus tonight, amid concerns of increasing support for Scottish independence.
He told the Downing Street press conference that the Scottish Ambulance Service put out an appeal for extra help over the weekend and other nations ‘stepped forward’.
‘Our health systems across the UK routinely work closely together offering support when it’s needed and from vaccines to ambulance services we are stronger together. And the UK is stronger together in the fight against this pandemic,’ Mr Hancock said during a Downing Street press conference.
He said there are ‘early signs that the actions we are taking are working’, with the rise in case numbers slowing and falling in some areas such as London and Scotland.
During the Downing Street press conference, he was questioned about Scottish independence and asked if his performance, and that of his colleagues, over the past year, had helped or hindered the case for the union.
Mr Hancock replied: ‘The case for the union is undoubtedly strengthened by the work that we’ve done and shown how over this pandemic we’re stronger together as one United Kingdom.’
He highlighted the vaccine rollout programme across the UK, which is the ‘fastest’ in the world after Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
Mr Hancock added: ‘That’s a sign of what the UK can do when we pull together.’
Addressing people in Scotland considering the independence question, he said: ‘We’re so much stronger together.
‘It means an awful lot to me and my English UK colleagues, in the UK Government, that we are one union that can pull together when things get difficult.’
He said the vaccine rollout was a ‘real example of this country firing on all cylinders’.
Labour is in the midst of a leadership election, with one of the candidates, Monica Lennon, previously abstained in a vote on legislation for a new referendum, rather than voting against it.
The Prime Minister today slapped down Nicola Sturgeon’s demands for a new vote, saying she should be totally focused on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
Scotland’s First Minister used an interview yesterday to claim Mr Johnson ‘fears the verdict and the will of the Scottish people’ and, ahead of Burns Night tonight, quoted one of his works to accuse the PM of being a ‘wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie’.
On a visit to a vaccination centre in north London today, Mr Johnson sidestepped a question about whether he would legally challenge Ms Sturgeon’s plans for an advisory independence referendum if the SNP wins a majority in May’s Holyrood elections.
‘The whole UK is going through a pandemic, I think what the people of the UK want to see is everybody focusing on beating that pandemic, which we are, rolling out the vaccine, and getting ready to bounce back from that pandemic and have the strongest possible economic recovery,’ he said.
‘I think people also can see everywhere in the UK the visible benefits of our wonderful union.
‘A vaccine programme that is being rolled out by a National Health Service, a vaccine that was developed in labs in Oxford and is being administered by the British Army, so I think the strengths and advantages of the Union speak for themselves.’
The SNP hit back at Mr Johnson over his planned visit, with a spokeswoman saying: ‘The law in Scotland requires all work that can be done at home, to be done at home.
‘Scottish ministers are not engaging in visits in line with the current Stay at Home regulations and the requirement to stay local, so it’s clear the PM must think the union is really in peril if he considers his visit to be so essential.’
His comments come after The Sunday Times published the results of opinion polls in the four nations of the UK, which found a majority of voters thought Scotland was likely to be independent in the next 10 years.
In Scotland, the poll found that 49 per cent backed independence compared with 44 per cent against – a margin of 52 per cent to 48 per cent if the undecideds are excluded.
The SNP has unveiled an 11-point roadmap to splitting the UK, including a Catalonia-style wildcat vote that would effectively force a drastic response from the Prime Minister to stop it having legal effect.
Ms Sturgeon is vowing that a referendum will be held if there is a pro-independence majority at Holyrood after May’s elections – where her party is on track to get a landslide.
Jubilant SNP MPs said they wanted to ‘focus on undermining the union’, even though all sides made clear the 2014 vote would settle the issue ‘for a generation’.
The separatists lost that contest by 55 per cent to 45 per cent, but polls have been consistently showing that a majority north of the border would now vote to break away.
Under the blueprint, Ms Sturgeon would demand that Mr Johnson agree to a ‘Section 30’ order that paves the way to a second independence referendum.
The PM has pledged to refuse such a request. But for the first time, the SNP has said it will then hold a referendum anyway, forcing Mr Johnson to make it legal or take the Scottish Government to court to stop it.
UK Government sources said it would be more likely to ignore a referendum, although that would lead to huge political fallout.
Mr Johnson named himself ‘minister for the Union’ when he entered Downing Street 18 months ago, but visiting Scotland is a high-risk strategy, as opinion polls show he is hugely unpopular north of the border
A graphic shows how experts forecast a landslide victory for the SNP in May’s Scottish elections
It came as former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown warned that Britain risks becoming a ‘failed state’ unless it makes reforms to the union.
He urged Boris Johnson to consider reforms like replacing the House of Lords with a ‘senate of the regions’ and to review the way the UK is governed.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Brown said that ‘the choice is now between a reformed state and a failed state’, and the Government should use the Armed Forces and NHS to demonstrate the ‘everyday benefits’ of the union.
Mr Brown called on the Prime Minister to set up a commission on democracy which would review how the UK is governed
He writes: ‘The commission will discover that the United Kingdom urgently needs a forum of the nations and regions that brings them and BorisJohnson together on a regular basis.
‘No country can have national integration without political inclusion, and the commission might start by learning from the experience of countries like Australia, Canada, Germany and America where, partly because of British influence in times past, second chambers are senates of their regions, and minorities who can easily be outvoted are guaranteed a stronger voice.’
Britain risks becoming a ‘failed state’ unless it makes reforms to the union, former prime minister Gordon Brown has warned
A Cabinet spokesman said the public in Scotland want to see the UK’s politicians ‘working in partnership to focus on defeating coronavirus’.
‘That remains the top priority of the UK Government, which has supported jobs and businesses across all four nations throughout the pandemic,’ he added.
‘The question of Scottish independence was settled decisively in 2014, when Scotland voted to remain part of the UK.
‘Now more than ever, we should be pulling together to strengthen our United Kingdom, instead of trying to separate it’.
The Sunday Times poll found that in Northern Ireland, 47 per cent still want to remain in the UK, with 42 per cent in favour of a United Ireland and a significant proportion – 11 per cent – undecided.
However, asked if they supported a referendum on a United Ireland within the next five years, 51 per cent said yes compared with 44 per cent who were against.
In Wales, where support for independence is traditionally weakest, 23 per cent still backed leaving the UK while 31 per cent supported a referendum.
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