Michael Gove today told Nicola Sturgeon to focus on fixing the NHS after she renewed her independence drive despite the SNP falling short of a majority in crunch elections.
The Cabinet Office minister said Ms Sturgeon should think again about her ‘priorities’ in the wake of the Holyrood results, where her party saw a boost in support but failed to reach the high bar of gaining complete control.
Mr Gove pointed out that in 2011, before the 2014 independence referendum was triggered, the SNP had managed to get an overall majority.
He told Sky News that if Scots were asked whether they wanted politicians to concentrate on the the health service or the constitutional settlement it would be the ‘NHS by a landslide’.
But speaking from Glasgow, Mr Gove suggested the UK government will not go to court to block an attempt by Ms Sturgeon to hold a referendum without the PM’s permission. ‘We’re not going to go there,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon complained that it would be ‘absurd and completely outrageous’ if the UK Government went to court to block a second independence referendum. She suggested legislation will be put forward at Holyrood next year – but admitted that the Scottish government’s lawyers will have to agree that it does not go beyond its powers.
Boris Johnson last night threw down the gauntlet to Ms Sturgeon over Scottish independence by urging her to join a UK-wide council of war to rebuild the nation after Covid.
The Prime Minister called on Ms Sturgeon to join ‘Team UK’ to tackle the legacy of the pandemic – but she immediately appeared to reject the offer by mocking the ‘supposedly clever manoeuvre’.
Mr Johnson’s invitation will be seen as a move to head off demands for another independence referendum by tying Ms Sturgeon into a national rebuilding exercise.
He congratulated the SNP leader on her success in the elections, before saying he believed ‘passionately’ that ‘the interests of people across the UK and in particular the people of Scotland are best served when we work together’.
Michael Gove told Sky News that if Scots were asked whether they wanted politicians to concentrate on the the health service or the constitutional settlement it would be the ‘NHS by a landslide’
Boris Johnson (right) has said there should not be another Scots independence referendum for decades. Ms Sturgeon (left) insists a majority of MSPs in the Scottish parliament stood on a manifesto supporting a referendum
The Conservative Party smashed through further parts of the red wall, but failed to gain significant ground in Scotland and Wales, according to this week’s election results
Citing the success of the vaccine rollout ‘from Gretna to John o’Groats’, he said: ‘This is Team UK in action.’
Mr Johnson also invited First Ministers of Wales and Northern Ireland to the Covid summit ‘to discuss our shared challenges and how we can work together in the coming months and years to overcome them’.
But Ms Sturgeon dismissed the offer today, insisting she had received a mandate from Scots for another independence attempt – even though both sides agreed the 2014 contest was a ‘once in a generation’ decision.
‘For this to end up in court, which is not something I ever want to see, it would mean a Conservative government had refused to respect the democratic wishes of the Scottish people and the outcome of a democratic election and tried to go to the Supreme Court to overturn Scottish democracy,’ she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
In a televised statement delivered last night as the PM’s offer emerged, Ms Sturgeon criticised the Prime Minister for resisting a new referendum.
She said: ‘I hear about Boris Johnson refusing to give in to these demands. And what supposedly clever manoeuvres Westminster might be planning. All of this treats voters in Scotland as if they simply don’t matter – like they are just a sideshow. But voters are not a sideshow. You – not me or Boris Johnson – are the people who matter.’
Asked whether the Westminster government would block a second border poll, Mr Gove said: ‘No, what’re working on doing at the moment is working together to deal with all the challenges that we face across the whole United Kingdom.
‘If we get sucked into a conversation about referenda and constitutions then we are diverting attention from the issues that are most important to the people in Scotland and across the United Kingdom.
‘I hope that what people want from a Holyrood government, and also from the Westminster government, is a commitment to work together on these issues.
‘So, instead of concentrating on the things that divide, let’s concentrate on the things that unite and let’s concentrate on all of us to work together to serve the people that just vote for us.’
Referencing the SNP’s desire for a second referendum, Mr Gove added it was ‘a slightly skewed set of priorities to imagine that that is the most important issue’ in the light of the pandemic recovery.
Pressed on whether the UK Government would look to block legislation from the Scottish Parliament pushing for a second referendum, Mr Gove said: ‘We are not going to go there.’
65 seats are needed for a majority in the Scottish Parliament
To the relief of No 10, the SNP fell just short of the 65 seats needed to win an outright majority at Holyrood.
The SNP eventually secured 64 seats. The Conservatives won 31, with 22 to Labour, the Greens on 8 and the Lib Dems on 4. Alex Salmond’s new Alba party failed to win a seat.
With the Green candidates also standing on a mandate to hold another referendum in the next five years, it means the London Government is facing a coalition in favour of such a vote. But Ms Sturgeon’s hopes of an outright majority were dashed when tactical pro-unionist voting helped the Tories to hold Aberdeenshire West by more than 3,000 votes.
Despite Mr Johnson’s implacable opposition, the SNP leader vowed to push ahead with plans for a rerun of the 2014 referendum, leading to the prospect of a Supreme Court battle between Holyrood and Westminster.
Ms Sturgeon said that rejecting her party’s calls would amount to a refusal ‘to accept Scottish democracy’. The most recent polls have shown Scottish voters split roughly 50/50 on independence.
As the count continued yesterday, it was clear the SNP would fall one single seat short of an overall majority
Mr Johnson, pictured with the new Tory MP for Hartlepool, Jill Mortimer, left, has written to the First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland inviting them to a summit to discuss a post-Covid recovery plan
In his letter to Ms Sturgeon, Mr Johnson said: ‘While the UK’s broad shoulders have supported jobs and business the length of the country, we know that economic recovery will be a serious shared responsibility because the pandemic’s dam-age runs deep… from hours of lost school learning, to backlogs in the NHS and courts. Overcoming them will require the same spirit of unity and co-operation which marked our fight against the pandemic.’
Mr Johnson concluded his letter by saying: ‘I am confident that by learning from each other we will be able to build back better.’
However, yesterday senior Tories accused Ministers of making a ‘strategic’ tactical error early in the pandemic that gave the SNP in Scotland and Labour in Wales a ‘slam dunk’ electoral boost.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory party leader, told The Mail on Sunday that using health service legislation rather than the UK-wide Emergency Powers Act ‘meant ‘we had Drakeford and Sturgeon up in front of the cameras day in, day out, laying claim to successes that were in fact the UK Government’s, like vaccines.’
A senior Government source confirmed the choice of legislation ‘unquestionably shored up the Labour and SNP vote. The fact Sturgeon can appear before the nation for more than a year, talking about matters of public health, has had an effect, there is no shadow of a doubt.’
It is understood the decision to use the health legislation was argued by Health Secretary Matt Hancock. A source said he ‘underestimated how devious Sturgeon and Drakeford were going to be in taking credit for policies’.
And writing in today’s Mail on Sunday, former Tory Chancellor Lord Lamont said the possibility of a Scottish breakaway ‘is so real and so damaging that, from now on, this threat demands the Prime Minister’s attention above all else’.
Last night, Mr Johnson said: ‘These results are an instruction to us to keep our focus on what matters – more jobs and investment, better public services and levelling up opportunity in every single community.
‘Voters have put their trust in Conservative representatives, councillors and mayors and we must deliver for them. We will have a laser-like focus on the people’s priorities.’
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory party leader, told The Mail on Sunday that using health service legislation rather than the UK-wide Emergency Powers Act ‘meant ‘we had Drakeford and Sturgeon up in front of the cameras day in, day out, laying claim to successes that were in fact the UK Government’s, like vaccines’
Wealthy Tories with the Queen as a neighbour save the Union… for now: Victory in Aberdeen West where the Royals holiday at Balmoral stops SNP majority
By Patricia Kane for The Mail on Sunday
In the face of a Nationalist tsunami sweeping Scotland, one tiny pocket of the nation managed to thwart the SNP’s bid to seal an overall majority and put a dent in its bid for separation.
Aberdeenshire West – the constituency that takes in the Queen‘s Highland home of Balmoral – had been a key target for Nicola Sturgeon and a win would have given her a firm moral mandate to hold a repeat of the 2014 independence referendum.
But voters just outside the Granite City threw their weight behind the union with the SNP kept at bay in second place by the Conservative incumbent, Alexander Burnett, who even managed to increase his vote share.
Tactical voting by pro-Union supporters played a part, with many Labour and Liberal Democrat voters temporarily ‘lending’ their vote to the Conservatives who stood the best chance against the separatists.
Crown connection: The Queen’s Balmoral summer holiday home, pictured above, lies within the constituency, which had been a key target for Nicola Sturgeon
Last night, Mr Burnett, who saw his share of the vote go up 9.1 per cent, said he was ‘absolutely delighted’ at the ‘resounding support for his party’ in the constituency, which was the only seat in the whole of the north east of Scotland that the SNP failed to win.
He said: ‘If we have the mantle or title that stopped the SNP getting a majority, I am happy to take that.
‘I am under no illusions that some of the people who voted for me are not always people who vote Conservative and I’m very grateful and appreciative to Liberal Democrats and Labour who lent me their vote this time.’
The constituency takes in Royal Deeside in the south, including the Balmoral estate, widely thought to be the Queen’s favourite residence.
While famously never entering into political debate, the monarch said in 2014 ahead of the Scottish independence referendum that she hoped ‘people will think very carefully about the future’.
The area’s rich Royal heritage boosts its tourism, while the local oil and gas industry has helped make it one of the most affluent areas in the country.
One key issue was thought to be Brexit, with the impact on food exports from the largely agricultural area thought to be an influence on how people might vote. But the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on tourism, concerns about the oil and gas industry in a post-Covid recovery and views on independence also all played a part.
Mr Burnett, a Banchory-based property developer and business owner, was up against Fergus Mutch, the SNP’s former head of communications, who lives in Braemar.
A map showing the results in Scotland. Many Labour and Liberal Democrat voters temporarily ‘lent’ their vote to the Conservatives who stood the best chance against the separatists
The law graduate previously worked as a parliamentary assistant to Alex Salmond when he was Scotland’s First Minister. In the end, Mr Burnett polled 19,709 votes to Mr Mutch’s 16,319.
Tactical voting in Galloway and West Dumfries is also thought to have played a part in incumbent Finlay Carson not only seeing off a challenge by the SNP’s Emma Harper but increasing his majority.
His win now completes a Tory blue frontline along the border between Scotland and England, while much of the rest of the country is SNP yellow.
Ms Sturgeon was hoping to reach the 65-seat majority mark to give her a stronger mandate to hold a repeat of the 2014 independence referendum, despite Boris Johnson saying now is not the time.
She is certain to remain First Minister, possibly pursuing a coalition with the pro-independence Greens, setting up a constitutional battle for Scotland’s future.
Ms Sturgeon upped the ante last night, by warning that any legal attempts to block a new referendum would ‘fly in the face of Scottish democracy.’ She has vowed to push ahead with plans for a Scottish referendum, while the PM insisted he would not back the ‘irresponsible’ move that could break up the union.
Any attempt by Scottish politicians unilaterally to try to hold a referendum would lead to a Supreme Court battle between Holyrood and Westminster.