A second Scottish independence referendum is “the wrong priority at the worst possible moment”, according to Tory leadership hopeful Rishi Sunak.
The former chancellor made the claim in a column for the Scottish Daily Mail on Tuesday.
Both he and his leadership rival Liz Truss have spoken out against the idea of holding another vote, with Ms Truss stating last week that she would not agree to a request from the Scottish Government under any circumstances.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last week branded the two hopefuls “hypocrites” in response to their comments, while Kirsten Oswald, the SNP’s deputy Westminster spokesperson, accused them of making “it clear they will continue to ignore Scotland’s voice” on Monday.
In his column, Mr Sunak said the United Kingdom is the “most successful political union in history, and has stood the test of time in withstanding some of the greatest challenges we have ever faced”.
“Working together and uniting is what made us such a formidable force on the world stage,” he wrote.
“Scotland has achieved so much as part of the UK, and the UK has achieved so much because of Scotland. We can build on that success for the future, and I have a plan to do it.
“In the same way that the might of our union stepped up to help people in all corners of the UK during the pandemic, it’s going to have to help people through the immediate months and challenges ahead.”
The Downing Street hopeful went on: “I am clear that another referendum is the wrong priority at the worst possible moment.
“The SNP are wrong to try and tear the country apart when we should be pulling together. Why aren’t they talking about the drugs crisis in Scotland or how we can get more money into Scottish workers’ pockets?
“Just as I want to be more accountable to people in every corner of the United Kingdom, so too does the SNP need to be more accountable for their responsibilities.”
The Tory MP added that the UK Government cannot “just stop a referendum, we also need to drive down support for independence, too”.
“We need to win the argument and show that you can be a patriotic Scot and a proud advocate of our United Kingdom at the same time,” he said. “One is not exclusive to the other.”
To do so, the former chancellor suggested Westminster should put an end to the “devolve and forget mentality” and instead become “the most active UK Government since devolution began” by investing more funding directly into local communities.
Ms Sturgeon last month set out her intention to hold a second independence referendum, with a provisional date set for October 19 2023.
Ms Oswald, SNP MP for East Renfrewshire, said: “Rishi Sunak’s warped logic appears to be that the people of Scotland cannot be given a say over their constitutional future because the UK is in such a mess.
“It is precisely because the UK is lagging behind neighbouring countries on a range of wealth and equality indicators – as demonstrated in the recent Scottish Government paper – that independence for Scotland is essential.
“The longer Scotland remains tied to a failing Westminster system, the poorer we will become as a result.
“The Tories put the exact case that Rishi Sunak is making to the people of Scotland at every election, and they lose every election by a landslide. It’s clear that neither of the Tory candidates have put any thought into their Scotland strategy, which does not bode well for either of them becoming prime minister.
“Regardless of what Rishi Sunak thinks, the people of Scotland have already decided that they want to be offered a choice over their future – they did that in last year’s election when they elected a clear majority of MSPs with that commitment.”