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The SNP have no mandate for an independence referendum and support for a second vote next year is “relatively low”, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has said.
The UK Government minister responded to questions about the Scottish Government’s bid for a second referendum as he appeared at Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee on Monday.
Last week, the Scottish Government published a paper comparing the UK with other nations which Ms Sturgeon claimed are “wealthier, fairer and happier” than the UK.
The Scottish Government is in a constitutional stalemate over a second independence referendum with the UK Government maintaining their opposition to the idea.
There has been speculation that the Scottish Government will pursue a second referendum without a Section 30 order.
Mr Jack dismissed the “scene-setting” paper released by the First Minister last week as “seen it all before”.
Committee chair Pete Wishart asked Mr Jack what the democratic route to Scottish independence would be.
The Scottish Secretary said: “When I look at the desire for an independence referendum in these opinion polls, the numbers are relatively low, not just for next year but over the next three years.”
He continued: “Only a third of the electorate voted for the SNP at Holyrood last year.
“I don’t see that as a mandate for an independence referendum.”
Mr Wishart said more MSPs than ever had been elected who supported a second independence referendum and asked what the UK Government would do to stop Holyrood legislating for a second vote on the constitution.
He said: “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. That is entirely a matter for the law officers, as I’ve said in the past.”
Mr Wishart also asked the Scottish Secretary if relations between the Scottish and UK Governments had ever been at “such a low ebb”.
He said they worked with each other in a number of areas, but added: “I get up every day and want to strengthen the United Kingdom, Nicola Sturgeon wakes and wants to destroy it.”
“I understand that but we have to deliver as two Governments.”
Mr Wishart asked if those comments helped, with Mr Jack responding: “Well, I’ve said it at the despatch box, it’s in Hansard, I’m not going to row back from it now.”
The Scottish Secretary also referred to comments made by Nicola Sturgeon last year around the Alba Party “gaming the system” of the Holyrood election.
Mr Jack said: “(Ms Sturgeon) relies heavily on her coalition partners the Greens for this and yet they’re very similar travellers to the Alba Party in that regard.”
Deidre Brock MP said:
“Alister Jack can run, but he cannot hide from the democratic will of a nation.
Responding to Mr Jack’s comments following his committee appearance, SNP MP Deidre Brock said: “A country’s right to choose should not be determined by the firm belief of an MP whose party holds only six seats in Scotland.
“It should be decided at the ballot box, which is exactly what happened when Scotland returned a pro-independence majority last year.
“Both Labour and the Conservatives are petrified of engaging in debate because they can see how threadbare the case for continued Westminster rule over Scotland has become.
“However, no matter how hard the Westminster system tries to avoid it, they simply cannot dodge reality.
“The people of Scotland have secured a cast-iron democratic mandate to decide their future – and neither Alister Jack nor Boris Johnson has the right to block that mandate.”