Liz Truss has said that the “best thing to do with Nicola Sturgeon is ignore her” and branded the First Minister an “attention seeker” at the Conservative hustings in Exeter.
The foreign secretary is competing with former chancellor Rishi Sunak to succeed Boris Johnson as Prime Minister at No 10.
On Monday, the candidates were setting out their case for Tory leadership to members when Truss was asked about how she would strengthen the bond of the UK.
One member of the audience asked: “What are you going to do to get Scotland on board? Because I’m sick to death hearing about Nicola Sturgeon trying to break up the union.”
Chair of the hustings, the Whitehall editor of the Financial Times Sebastian Payne, added: “The bond of the United Kingdom has weakened over the past 12 years of the Conservative government, and if you look at Northern Ireland or Scotland, independence is very much a question again. What is your plan to reverse that?”
Truss, who described herself as “a child of the union” said: “We’re better together and I think the best thing to do with Nicola Sturgeon is to ignore her.
“She’s an attention seeker, that’s what she is and what we need to do is show the people of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales what we are delivering for them, and make sure that all of our government policies apply right across the United Kingdom.”
On Monday, a group of Scottish Conservative MSPs gave their backing to Truss’ bid to become PM.
Finlay Carson, Sharon Dowey, Murdo Fraser, Rachel Hamilton, Liam Kerr, Stephen Kerr, Douglas Lumsden, Oliver Mundell, and Graham Simpson backed her leadership bid in a Times newspaper column, but Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has so far ruled out endorsing either candidate in the contest.
Speaking at the hustings Truss, who grew up in Paisley, added that she was “very proud” to lift whisky tariffs, and said: “I don’t think I’ve ever been more popular than I was than in Mather’s bar in Edinburgh the night that I was there with a bunch of whisky distillers that said that this has made a huge difference to their business, and it was now 25% cheaper for them to export their fantastic whisky to the United States.
“And that is the kind of thing we need to be there, we need to be showing what we’re delivering.
“Nicola Sturgeon can carry on talking about an independence referendum, we had the referendum in 2014 it was agreed it was once in a generation – so we’ve got to call her out on that, but at the same time really delivering for Scotland, so some of the policies I’m talking about, the investment zones, the free ports, we need to make sure they’re delivered in Scotland too.”
Foreign secretary Truss has insisted that she will not allow an independence referendum to take place if she enters No 10.
The SNP has criticised both Truss and Sunak, claiming that they are “out of touch” with people across Scotland.
Keith Brown, the party’s depute leader, said: “It is crystal clear that the people of Scotland and Scottish democracy mean nothing to either of the contenders for next Tory prime minister.”
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