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A senior minister has confirmed that the Government strategy is “not to allow a second independence referendum” in the belief that support for separation is linked to Ms Sturgeon’s popularity. It comes as the Scottish Nationalist First Minister told her SNP conference that she wants a referendum “early in the next Parliament” after the Holyrood election next May. A recent poll Scotland last week suggested that support for independence could be as high as 58 percent, although most polls have had it much lower. But a new Conservative Progress “Love our Union” campaign has been launched to try to build support for keeping the UK together.
Recently Conservative Moray MP Douglas Ross took over the leadership of the Scottish Conservatives in a ticket with former leader Ruth Davidson to take the fight to the SNP.
However, a senior cabinet minister has told the Sunday Express that the UK Government believes the scandal surrounding the trial of former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond will be the undoing of the push for Scottish independence.
Last year Mr Salmond was acquitted of 13 out of 14 charges of sexual assault and attempted rape while the 14th received a “not proven” verdict unique to Scottish law.
While Mr Salmond acknowledged during the trial that sexual approaches had been made he and his supporters have alleged that the allegations of assault were made to discredit him and prevent a political comeback.
It has been claimed that Ms Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell, the chief executive of the SNP, were at the heart of the plot against Mr Salmond.
However, a Holyrood inquiry chaired by SNP stalwart MSP Linda Fabiani has been regularly thwarted in its attempts to see documents and receive evidence from the Scottish government despite Ms Sturgeon’s promise that her administration would be completely open.
Just last week the SNP Scottish Government ignored a second vote in Holyrood to publish the documents.
There has been further intrigue over Ms Sturgeon claiming she had “forgotten” about a meeting with Mr Salmond to discuss the sexual assault allegations before they went to trial.
Meanwhile, Mr Murrell has claimed that leaked texts which appeared to suggest he was pressurising police to take action against Mr Salmond were “taken out of context”.
The senior UK minister said that the controversy had given Boris Johnson’s government hope that independence may slip off the agenda.
“I think we are seeing peak nationalism and it will go down from here,” the minister said. “What we must do is resist a second [independence] referendum.
“The problems Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell are having are going to have an effect. You can’t just forget if a former First Minister told you he was being charged with sexual assault. I am sure I would not forget if a former Prime Minister came and told me something like that.”
The last independence referendum saw a clear majority to stay in the UK by 55 per cent to 45 per cent.
The SNP hope that if they get a majority in next year’s Scottish Parliament election they can force a referendum.
But the Conservative Progress Love the Union campaign hopes to help counter that by signing up volunteers to help support keeping Scotland in the UK.
A spokesman said: “The time to stand up is now. With Scottish elections rapidly approaching in 2021, we cannot afford to sit back and wait for the SNP – potentially with a large majority in Holyrood – to turn their narrative into concrete plans to deliver and win a new referendum that breaks up our Union.
“It’s incumbent on all of us to stand together and make the positive case heard far and wide.”
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