Cabinet minister Michael Gove has said a future Tory UK Government would not grant Nicola Sturgeon powers for a second independence referendum even if the SNP wins a 2021 Holyrood majority.
Gove described the SNP leader as the “greatest electoral asset” of the Scottish Conservatives due to her “insistence” on a fresh independence vote.
He said such a vote would be a “waste of time” and a “distraction”, calling on Sturgeon’s government to instead focus on improving Scotland’s healthcare and education.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said another independence ballot would further erode trust in politicians, given pledges from nationalist politicians that the 2014 vote was a “once in a lifetime event”.
Gove’s remarks could be seen as a slap-down to Scottish secretary Alister Jack after he suggested on Tuesday that a Scottish parliamentary majority for the SNP in 2021 could provide a “democratic mandate” for indyref2.
Speaking during a visit to a farm outside Castle Douglas, Gove also pledged to maintain current levels of funding for farmers after Brexit for every year of the next parliament.
“That is a five-year guarantee,” he said.
“No other political party is providing that guarantee to support those who are responsible for producing our food and safeguarding our countryside.”
The Scottish Liberal Democrats dismissed Gove’s pledge on his visit to Scotland, saying he is “a fool if he thinks Brexit will benefit Scottish farmers”.
And speaking at a rally in Dundee earlier on Wednesday, the First Minister said Scottish independence would be better planned than Brexit.
Campaigning in Dumfries and Galloway, Gove said the Tory campaign north of the border was going “very well”.
He added: “Our biggest electoral asset of course is Nicola Sturgeon, because Nicola Sturgeon’s insistence on a second independence referendum, come hell or high water, is not going down well on the doorstep.”
Gove claimed the SNP leader would “use any reason, any excuse, any justification to say there should be a second independence referendum” – including winning a Holyrood majority in two years’ time.
But he went on to say: “We’re not going to grant that. We will say no, because she said that this was a once in a lifetime event.
“It erodes trust in politics if you say it is a once in a lifetime event and then you go back on that.”
Gove added: “The SNP must justify their record on health, on education, on the economy and in that 2021 election we will be saying not only that we don’t want a second independence referendum, that is a total distraction and waste of time.”
In Dundee, Sturgeon said: “I can understand why proponents of Brexit want to draw the analogy between the Brexit process and independence.
“As much as I oppose Brexit, there was nothing inevitable about the mess that the Brexit process became.
“That was down to the fact that those who advocated Leave in the referendum didn’t put any detail of what it would mean in practice – of the trade-offs and compromises that would be required to implement that – before people.”
On the first independence vote in 2014, she continued: “We had done the planning and we will do so again.
“Let us not allow the charlatans who will tell people that constitutional change has to be that way.
“It was and is that way with Brexit because of their dishonesty and their lack of planning.
“These are mistakes the independence campaign didn’t make in 2014 and will not make in the future.”
On Gove’s farming pledge, Scottish Lib Dem election chair Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Michael Gove is a fool if he thinks Brexit will benefit Scottish farmers.
“Farms are struggling to get the seasonal workers they need and worried that new barriers will cost them money.”
“Scottish Liberal Democrats are committed to stopping Brexit and ensuring a brighter future for our farmers.”