David Mundell, the Scottish secretary, has accused Nicola Sturgeon of sweeping aside the votes of 2 million Scots who voted against independence as if they “counted for nothing”.
Mundell said the first minister was guilty of hypocrisy after she began a debate this week on the timescale and tests for a second referendum, despite stating before last year’s poll that an independence vote was a “once in a lifetime” or a “once in a generation” event and promising to respect the outcome.
In a speech in Edinburgh to mark the first anniversary of the referendum on 18 September, the cabinet minister said the no vote had won decisively, by 384,000 votes, after the highest turnout of any vote in modern times. “The sovereign will of the Scottish people is set aside as though it counted for nothing and the first minister openly acknowledges that she’ll try to hold a second referendum just as soon as she thinks she has a chance of winning it,” Mundell said in advance extracts of his speech.
“It is as though the votes of 2 million Scots can just be set aside as an unfortunate but peripheral setback on the road to independence.”
In passages of his speech likely to provoke an angry reaction from critics of the Tory government, Mundell said that if the union between Scotland and England did not exist, it would need to be invented.
Scots would vote for it, he claimed, because the UK helped protect the weakest and poorest, as well as giving Scotland the stability of the pound (particularly compared with the euro), the BBC and protection by the security services.
“Together we form the world’s greatest family of nations. And it is as part of that family that Scotland has made such an enormous contribution to the political life and economic prosperity of the UK and the world,” Mundell will say.
“And we must never forget that the people who benefit the most from the United Kingdom are not the strong and the successful, but the poorest, the weakest, and the most vulnerable.”
The SNP said that was a risible argument. “David Mundell’s claim that if the union didn’t exist it would have to be invented is laughable – countless countries have become independent from Westminster rule in the last century and not a single one has voted or chosen to return,” the spokesman said.
Mundell said recent opinion polls continued to show that Scotland would vote no in a further referendum, pointing to a YouGov survey for the Times which put the no vote at 53% and yes at 47% after don’t knows were excluded.
Other recent polls, however, say the gap is far tighter, with one showing a tiny lead for yes. Mundell hinted at some nerves about the challenge of a second referendum being held soon, insisting “independence is not inevitable”.
He claimed that the fear of losing British institutions and the unions ought to strengthen the resolve of pro-UK voters to protect them, urging unionists to become far more proactive in championing the UK because of the ongoing challenge from yes campaigners for another poll.
“All these benefits and many more are why so many Scots were delighted and relieved by the referendum result – not because our side had won, but because we had got the right outcome for everyone in Scotland. We used to take these things for granted. The referendum campaign taught we cannot afford ever to do so again.”
The SNP insisted that Sturgeon was still far from clear when and if a second vote could be held. “The first minister has repeatedly made clear that any decision on whether or not there is another referendum – and ultimately on whether or not Scotland ever becomes independent – will always be for the people of Scotland,” the spokesman said.
“But support for independence is only likely to grow, as shown by recent polls, if Scotland’s voice continues to be ignored by an arrogant, out-of-touch Tory government we didn’t vote for and which risks dragging us out of Europe against our will.”
This article was written by Severin Carrell Scotland editor, for theguardian.com on Thursday 17th September 2015 00.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010