Scotland politics

Ruth Davidson: Scottish independence 'not inevitable'

ruth davidson Image copyright PA
Image caption Ruth Davidson was addressing an audience of foreign diplomats in London

Ruth Davidson has said that Scottish independence is not inevitable as she unveiled an expert group to examine the impact of Brexit on Scotland.

In a speech in London, the Scottish Conservative leader said recent polls suggested the majority of people in Scotland did not back independence.

And she said the prospect of a second referendum had now been "parked in a lay-by" by the SNP.

The Scottish government said the Conservatives were "utterly clueless"

Speaking immediately after the result of the EU referendum was announced, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said another vote on independence was "highly likely" and instructed civil servants to start drawing up plans for a referendum.

But addressing an audience of foreign diplomats, Ms Davidson - who backed Remain ahead of the EU referendum - said the "shock" of the Brexit vote had now started to subside.

'Referendum fatigue'

She said the SNP's strategy had always been to make independence feel inevitable, but insisted that this assumption was "wrong" and that Scotland was now suffering from "referendum fatigue" after two votes in three years.

She added: "In unsettled times that pose deep and existential questions, nationalism seeks to give easy answers wrapped in a flag.

"It thrives on chaos, and it is fair to describe that week after the (EU) vote as chaotic.

"In the immediate aftermath of the result there was a modest swing in favour of independence, but more recent polls have made it clear that this swing has not been maintained. In other words, we are back to where we were".

Image caption Ms Davidson claimed the SNP had "parked" the prospect of a second independence referendum

She argued that this had been partially recognised by the SNP, with Ms Sturgeon opting to leave her draft referendum bill "on a low shelf" when she published her programme for government last week.

Ms Davidson said: "The unstoppable bandwagon of late June now appears to have been parked in a lay-by.

"We have had five years of uncertainty and rancour over our constitutional status, now added to by the EU referendum result.

"As a result, most people in Scotland now do not want to add to that any more - yes they remain troubled by the EU result, but that is not translated into support for further constitutional upheaval in the form of yet another referendum on independence."

She said there was a risk that Scotland would enter a damaging constitutional "limbo period", with the SNP leadership "caught between the demands of their core support and the political realities of the majority of Scots".

'Deliver for Scotland'

She added: "The first minister tried to use the vote to create a bow wave surge for independence. It hasn't worked, but I don't think the SNP will stop trying.

"And sadly, in our judgement, the push for separation will continue to be the main priority for the SNP government as we head into Brexit discussions - and not the best interests of Scotland and the United Kingdom."

Ms Davidson said her party's new expert group would assess the risks and opportunities of Brexit for Scotland.

The group includes MSPs Adam Tomkins and Alexander Stewart, MEP Ian Duncan, former Scottish Whisky Association head Gavin Hewitt and former CBI Scotland director Sir Iain McMillan.

She added: "I will ask them to report to me on how best they believe Brexit can deliver for Scotland, and crucially for the entire United Kingdom too".

The Scottish government has already set up a similar group to examine how best to protect Scotland's place in Europe.

A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said evidence was mounting of the "potentially huge damage Brexit threatens to jobs, investment and Scotland's economy".

He added: "It is Ruth Davidson and her Tory colleagues who have created the problem but who also appear utterly clueless about how to fix it.

"As a start, perhaps Ms Davidson can answer the simple question that her boss, the prime minister, was unable to answer last week: does she believe the UK should continue in the single market - yes or no?"

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: "The Brexit gamble made by the Tories has given the Nationalists an excuse to campaign for independence again when what we really need is a renewed focus on jobs, the economy and public services like our schools and NHS.

"Both the SNP and the Tories' plans would be economically damaging for Scotland - parties should be explaining what their plans are beyond the constitution."

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