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by Mark McLaughlin
28 February 2017
Tories won't reveal indyref hand yet, says Ruth Davidson

Tories won't reveal indyref hand yet, says Ruth Davidson

Ruth Davidson - David Anderson​/Holyrood 

Ruth Davidson has given the clearest signal yet that Theresa May has a secret plan prepared for Nicola Sturgeon if she seeks permission to hold another independence referendum.

The Scottish Conservative leader said the Prime Minister will not reveal her hand unless Sturgeon formally requests a Section 30 order — the same process that paved the way for the 2014 poll through the Edinburgh Agreement.

In an exclusive interview with Holyrood, Davidson suggested May will be watching Sturgeon’s next moves carefully, but won’t reveal the UK Government’s potential response in advance and “thus showing them our hand”.

While she acknowledged contingency planning for a second independence bid was going on, she dismissed reports that they are working on the assumption that another poll will take place in August 2018.

She told Holyrood: “I’m not sure that anybody thinks that they should have a referendum in August, in the middle of the school holidays. I did laugh when I read that one.

“Nicola Sturgeon needs to make the case in the court of public opinion to request a Section 30 order, she needs to request a Section 30 order, I’m not going to jump several points ahead of that and make it seem like it’s inevitable because that’s entirely what the SNP are trying to do.”

She adds: “The idea of asking me to play out in a publication what we would do in response to her making four or five different moves and showing our hand — I’m not going to do that.

“I don’t think another independence referendum is inevitable, so by extension I don’t think another Edinburgh Agreement is inevitable.

“Do I think the UK Government should block another referendum forever? I have been quite clear in the press that the SNP would love nothing more than to have a process story out there, that they could create and pile grievance upon, and I don’t think we should give them that process story.

“But I certainly don’t think we should talk about what moves we would make in response to moves that the SNP haven’t made yet.

“They (the UK Government) shouldn’t say, now, that they would block — forever — another independence referendum. That is absolutely handing Nicola Sturgeon the process story that she wants, and I’m not going to do it.”

Davidson's repeated stress on the word “forever” suggests timing could be an element in future Section 30 negotiations.

In the Edinburgh Agreement, which removed Westminster’s legislative block on the 2014 referendum, the Scottish Government was handed the power to set the date and franchise in exchange for dropping a second question on “devo max”, but the SNP may not get its way on timing again. 

Theresa May is unlikely to want a battle with Bute House while she’s trying to wrestle concessions from Brussels.

And with polls currently showing little appetite for a second referendum — as Davidson is also fond of pointing out — May could decide that she has public opinion on her side and put her foot down?

When pressed on the potential for tough negotiations on timing, Davidson said: “I’m not playing out in somebody’s publication what our response to moves that they haven’t made yet would be, thus showing them our hand.”

The Scottish Conservative leader also revealed that May has “a wicked sense of humour”, and urged her to reveal more of her self-deprecating side ahead of her trip north to deliver a keynote speech at the Scottish Conservative Conference on March 3. 

Davidson said: “I’ve known her a long time. I think one thing that has never made the public realm, and I’m not sure why, is that she’s actually got a very, very dry, very wicked sense of humour.

“She’s quite self-deprecating, I think that’s a hugely attractive quality, I think actually the country would probably benefit from seeing a bit more of that, and I think she would actually benefit from people seeing a bit more of that.”

For the full interview see the latest issue of Holyrood Magazine

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