Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross is seeking urgent talks with the leaders of the other pro-UK parties, calling on them to unite and work together to stop pro-independence parties winning a majority at Holyrood.
Mr Ross said the action was needed after Alex Salmond was unveiled as the leader of the new Alba Party – which is aiming to win seats on Holyrood’s regional lists to create a “supermajority” in favour of Scotland quitting the UK.
The Scottish Conservative leader said that showed that Nationalists were looking to “game the system to ensure our Parliament and the focus of the next five years is all on independence, rather than on our recovery”.
He said that “if the numbers allow”, his party, together with Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats, could look to “form a pro-UK anti referendum coalition, so we can get the focus of Scottish politics back on to the issues that matter to the people – which is not a damaging, divisive, destructive referendum campaign”.
Mr Ross also refused to rule out the prospect of the pro-UK parties agreeing to only run one candidate in constituency seats, uniting around whoever would have the best chance of defeating the SNP.
“Nothing is off the table,” the Conservative MP insisted.
He has already written to Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and Willie Rennie of the Scottish Lib Dems, saying: “We’ve got to sit down as the leaders of the three main pro-UK parties in Scotland, as we did in 2014, to look to work together to stop them.
“Nothing is off the table, I will look at any and all suggestions as to how we can do that.”
He insisted that action was needed because Friday’s launch of the Alba Party – which will see Mr Salmond run as a candidate for the North East region – had “changed the nature of this campaign”.
Mr Ross told Mr Sarwar and Mr Rennie: “We’ve got to address this. If we don’t the Nationalists will dominate our politics.”
He wants the other two pro-UK parties to agree to sign up to pledge committing them to voting against any proposal for a second Scottish independence referendum, and making clear they will not form a coalition with any of the pro-independence parties.
The pledge also states that “if the numbers allow”, the three main pro-UK parties would form an “anti-referendum coalition” in the Scottish Parliament.
Speaking about the plans, Mr Ross said: “It is clearer than ever before that the dividing line in this election is now over another independence referendum.
“I think that is an extremely sad state of affairs when we should be focused on our recovery and rebuilding after Covid-19 and sorting out 14 years of failure from the SNP Scottish government.
“But there is no doubt that the Nationalists, whether they be Nicola Sturgeon’s Nationalists or Alex Salmond’s Nationalists, want to take us through another divisive independence referendum.
“That means we can’t focus on our recovery and rebuilding.
“That’s why I am asking for all the pro-UK parties to do what we did in 2014 and come together, put political differences aside, and stop this drive towards another independence referendum.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat campaign chair Alistair Carmichael however insisted that the Tory leader’s politics were “far too dark and divisive”.
Mr Carmichael said: “Lib Dems will work with others to deliver a constructive and ambitious plan for recovery, but Douglas Ross’s politics are far too dark and divisive.
“We will focus on winning seats and ensuring that the next government is focused on putting the recovery first, not independence.
“As a football referee Douglas Ross has a knack for uniting the fans of opposing teams. As a party leader he seems to do the exact opposite.”
Anas Sarwar said Mr Ross “needs to grow up”.
The Scottish Labour leader added: “He needs to recognise that we are in the middle of a pandemic.
“He needs to recognise that this election is not some kind of game, it’s not some kind of battle, it’s not about party politics, it’s not about individual politicians fighting with each other – it’s about focusing on a national recovery.”
Mr Ross later said it was “incredibly disappointing that other parties won’t even come to the table to discuss how we can work together”.