Ruth Davidson has warned Nicola Sturgeon that her public support would take a “massive hit” if she presses ahead with demands for a second independence referendum in the face of opposition from the majority of Scots.
The Scottish Tory leader said the First Minister would pay a “heavy price” at the ballot box and repeated her claim to the Telegraph last week that the Unionist campaign would have “every opportunity” to win a rerun of the 2014 vote by an even larger margin.
Citing Ms Sturgeon’s decision to order her civil servants to draw up legislation for a second referendum only hours after the Brexit result was announced, she accused the First Minister of an “absolutely cynical” pursuit of independence.
Her intervention came as an opinion poll showed only one in four Scots want a second independence referendum before Brexit talks are complete, with 51 per cent opposed and 24 per cent uncertain.
The BMG Research survey, commissioned by a Brexit campaigner, showed two-thirds of Scots who have made up their minds do not want a referendum earlier than that.
Ms Sturgeon told the SNP’s autumn conference two years ago that proposing another referendum “without strong evidence that a significant number of those who voted No have changed their minds would be wrong and we won’t do it. It would not be respecting the (2014) decision that people made.”
But she is expected to shortly request the powers from the Prime Minister to stage a rerun. This year’s autumn conference is being staged in less than a fortnight.
Ms Davidson told BBC Scotland’s Sunday Politics programme she was on the side of the majority opposed to Ms Sturgeon staging another referendum.
“And I tell what, if she does try and call one, I think she’s going to take a massive hit from it because Scots don’t want dragged back there,” the Scottish Tory leader said.
“If she moves against the popular opinion in Scotland and stops acting as a First Minister and acts solely as a leader of the SNP then I think she will pay a heavy price for it.”
Ms Davidson refused to speculate on whether a second referendum should not be staged until after Brexit, arguing this was premature. However, she last week hinted she backed a delay, arguing that “people should know what they are voting for.”
She also argued that Ms Sturgeon had broken the terms of the Edinburgh Agreement, the deal signed by David Cameron and Alex Salmond to stage the last referendum, in which both sides promised to respect the result.
Raising the speed with which Ms Sturgeon ordered a new Referendum Bill after the EU referendum, she said the First Minister “didn’t want to absorb the result, she didn’t want to talk to the public, she didn’t want to listen to what they had to say.”
Ms Davidson also dismissed complaints that the UK Government was planning to “grab” powers being repatriated to Brussels that should be devolved and pledged her party would be a “proper alternative government for Scotland” by the 2021 Holyrood election.
An SNP spokesman said: "Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU and the single market and yet the Tories are determined to drag Scotland out of the EU against our will, ignoring the clear wishes of the people of Scotland.
"The SNP has a clear mandate from the people of Scotland who backed our manifesto commitment on a further independence referendum if there was a material change to the circumstances of the 2014 vote and for the Tories to deny the Scottish people a choice over their future shows no respect for democracy.”