THE Conservatives were last night accused of being in a “state of confusion” over when, and if, they will consent to a second independence referendum after the party’s leadership set out a series of radically different timescales for a new vote in the space of a few days.

Former First Minister Alex Salmond spoke out after Theresa May was pressed to give clarity yesterday on her position after “a public consent” requirement for a ballot on Scotland’s constitutional future was included in the Tory manifesto published on Thursday.

The document accuses the SNP of trying to “disrupt” attempts to secure a Brexit deal “with calls for a divisive referendum that the people of Scotland do not want”.

Loading article content

It adds: “We have been very clear that now is not the time for another referendum on independence. In order for a referendum to be fair, legal and decisive, it cannot take place until the Brexit process has played out and it should not take place unless there is public consent for it to happen.”

The timescale of the Brexit process is still uncertain. The UK is due to leave in March 2019, however, if talks collapse the UK could be out this year.

On the other hand if a deal is reached and a transitional arrangement put in place between the EU and UK, the Brexit process could last five years, pushing back the timing of a new independence vote until 2022.

But launching the Scottish Conservative manifesto yesterday Ruth Davidson reiterated her view that a second referendum should not to take place for “a generation”, usually taken to mean around 35 years.

Speaking to journalists in Edinburgh yesterday the Prime Minister appeared to come up with yet a different stance, raising the possibility that, if re-elected next month, she may never consent to a new vote on independence.

“I have been clear that now is not the time for another independence referendum,” she said. “This is a time to pull together, not apart. As long as I am Prime Minister, I will never stand by and let our Union drift apart.”

Nicola Sturgeon has called for a vote to be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, giving people in Scotland a choice between leaving the EU with the rest of the UK or independence.

The Scottish Parliament endorsed her plans for a second referendum earlier this year and the SNP leader described Westminster’s subsequent refusal to grant permission as a “democratic outrage”.

Commenting on the Tories’ position, Salmond, who is standing for re-election in Gordon, said: “The Scottish Tories are mired in complete and utter confusion on the constitution.

“It’s time for them to understand that Scotland is a nation and not a region. Scotland’s future must lie in Scotland’s hands.

“There is already a cast-iron democratic mandate for Scotland to have a choice, based on last year’s Holyrood election and the subsequent vote of the Scottish Parliament.

‘‘The Tories want to deny and to block that mandate but they have not got the guts or gumption to say how. That lack of clarity betrays the weakness of their position – they know that their behaviour is antidemocratic and that it will not hold.

“It is only fair that people should have a choice on their future – not now, but once the terms of Brexit are known. And Scotland’s choice will not be denied.”

Ross Greer, for the Scottish Greens, said: “This manifesto confirms that it’s Theresa May not Ruth Davidson calling the shots in the Tory party north of the Border.

“It says no Scottish referendum till after the two-year Brexit process, contradicting Ruth’s daft comment that Scotland won’t be allowed a say until 2049.

“Scots voted to Remain in the EU, and the democratically elected Scottish Parliament has agreed that we should be allowed to choose our own future when the terms of the Tories’ Hard Brexit disaster are clear in around 18 months from now. Ruth Davidson is running scared of democracy, as instructed by Westminster.”

Robin McAlpine, of the Scottish Independence Convention, said: “If Brexit goes badly and Scotland is in a state of severe concern about the direction Theresa May, if re-elected, takes the country, I believe a desire for an independence referendum will grow. The Conservatives never want another independence referendum as they are afraid they will lose.”