The UK's vote to leave the EU has done nothing to strengthen the case for Scottish independence and only "fanatics" are calling for a rerun of the 2014 referendum, David Mundell has told BuzzFeed News.
Mundell, the only Conservative MP in Scotland and the country's secretary of state in the UK government, said there was "overwhelming evidence" that Scottish voters don't want another referendum in the wake of the EU vote.
The MP was speaking ahead of the Conservative party conference, which starts in Birmingham on Sunday, and he said he and his Scottish colleagues would be in a mood of "celebration" there after becoming the second-biggest party in Scotland in May.
Asked if the case for independence had been made weaker by the Brexit vote, Mundell said: "There’s no evidence it’s made it stronger. Despite the SNP mentioning independence every day since June 23 there’s no sign people are any more inclined to it.
"What’s absolutely clear is that people are overwhelmingly against another independence referendum, even people who support independence. The most important union for Scotland is the union with the rest of the United Kingdom.
"It’s nearly five times as big in trading terms, it has the social and family ties, the cultural ties, it’s the one that gives us a voice on the world stage – all the arguments we had two years ago. The case for the UK is as strong as ever."
Mundell suggested that first minister Nicola Sturgeon had made a strategic error in mentioning independence so often in the wake of the EU referendum, and said she will now be a "prisoner to her own party" in being forced to keep the prospect of another Scottish referendum alive even if she doesn't feel the timing is right.
"So many of the things she’s said are not addressed to the people of Scotland, who I think it’s clear don’t want another independence referendum," said the Scottish secretary.
"There are the fanatics within the SNP who do [want another vote] and she has
to keep those people happy by constantly leaving that possibility on the table,
and that possibility is causing real uncertainty."
Mundell denied there had been a lack of clarity from the government over what "Brexit means Brexit" means, and said he is holding dozens of meetings to decipher what Scotland needs from the Brexit negotiations which will begin when article 50 is triggered "in the new year".
"There is going to be a bit of a vacuum in terms of discourse because the government can’t set out exactly what it’s going to do on every issue," said Mundell. "And there is a radio silence on one side it gives others the chance to fill it.
"The government’s not going to set out line by line what its negotiating position is, and if we get criticism for that we have to shoulder it. Brexit means leaving the EU, but the deal we get will be a unique deal for the first country to leave the EU."
The Scottish secretary said he's had discussions with May and believes she's "absolutely committed" to the union between Scotland and the rest of the UK, and added that she believes the SNP is using Brexit as "an excuse" to push the cause of independence.
Mundell said May is "very admiring" of Ruth Davidson and has invited the Scottish Tory leader to speak immediately before her at the conference in Birmingham next week where Davidson will update the party on her successes in the Scottish election.
"We have lots to celebrate – we had a great result in the Scottish parliament election by more than doubling our MSPs, bringing new faces into parliament, and Ruth [Davidson] establishing herself as a UK politician," said Mundell.
"She’ll be speaking immediately before Theresa May at the conference, and what a contrast with Labour, where [Scottish Labour leader] Kezia Dugdale didn’t even get a mention in Jeremy Corbyn’s speech.
"We won’t be complacent – it’s clear the SNP ... will continue to agitate for another independence referendum, and we’ve got to continue to make the case for the UK. There’s still a big job of work to do."
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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