Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has vowed his MSPs will oppose holding a second independence referendum “at any point” over the next Holyrood term.
With the issue of whether Scots should have another vote on the future of the UK set to be central in next May’s election, Rennie made clear his opposition to it.
However, he refused to say if a majority win for pro-independence parties would give them a mandate for a second plebiscite.
Rennie spoke out on the issue as the UK Lib Dem leader Ed Davey warned the next Scottish Parliament elections could “well determine if our country has a future”.
To combat this, he said it was “imperative” to get more Lib Dems elected to Holyrood.
With the Scottish elections looming, he told his party conference that “once again, the forces of nationalism threaten to tear our family of nations apart”.
He stated: “Elections often determine the future of our country but these Scottish elections could well determine if our country has a future.”
Speaking to journalists during the Liberal Democrats’ autumn conference, Rennie said he would be “arguing every step of the way” against a second referendum in the next Holyrood term.
“No matter how many MSPs we’ve got, all of them will be committed to voting against it,” the Scottish Lib Dem leader pledged.
He added: “It is the danger for next year’s election.
“If people want to make sure we don’t plunge ourselves into more years-long debate about these issues, the easiest way to do it is not support parties who are in favour of another independence referendum.
“That is the best way of doing it and it can avoid all these debates and discussions about whether there is a right to have another referendum.”
Asked if a pro-independence majority would give the SNP a mandate for a second referendum, Rennie said: “We won’t support it and we’ve made that clear before.
“We’ve never been in the position of being able to support these things…
“We are not prepared to support it at any point.”
While a series of recent opinion polls have shown a majority of Scots in favour of leaving the UK, the MSP insisted most people “don’t think independence is a priority”.
He added: “There are also groups of people who just want the government to focus on recovery from the pandemic.”
After the independence and Brexit referendums, and with countries across the world now dealing with Covid-19, Rennie suggested that “people want more co-operation and partnership”.
He said that was what his party was offering, adding he was confident his party – which currently has five MSPs at Holyrood – could grow at next year’s elections.
But Rennie said the current Prime Minister Boris Johnson does “not help” those who campaign to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom.
He told journalists: “Nicola Sturgeon, obviously it is her stated intent to break up the United Kingdom, but I have to say Boris Johnson does not help us.
“It would be better if he was to be more responsive and more respectful, if he was actually to be a little more competent.”
But the Scottish Lib Dem leader said Johnson alone should not “lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom”.
He claimed the Prime Minister is a “transitory” figure in politics.
“The United Kingdom lasts much longer, and the strengths of the United Kingdom are far more,” Rennie said.