Second Scottish referendum calls ‘foolish', ex-Tory minister Michael Gove says
SCOTTISH first minister Nicola Sturgeon would be "foolish" to call a second independence referendum in the wake of the Brexit vote, a former British government cabinet minister has said.
Michael Gove, who served as both education and justice secretary under David Cameron, said: "The people of the United Kingdom, having voted to leave one union that didn't work, the people of Scotland are not going to vote to leave another union that works."
Ms Sturgeon has warned time is running out for Scotland to reach agreement with the British government over the terms of its exit from the European Union.
She has made clear that keeping Scotland in the single market will be key to any compromise deal which would be needed to prevent a second vote on independence.
But Mr Gove has argued that rather than "agitating" for another vote on the future of the UK, the Scottish government should be using the powers it does have to try to "enhance the lives of Scottish people".
"My view is clear, I don't think we need a second referendum on independence," he said.
"I think it would be destabilising and wrong. I don't think the public want it. I think it would be foolish for the first minister to try to call one."
He was speaking as he debated the impact of the European referendum with Holyrood Brexit minister Mike Russell.
At the event in Edinburgh, which was organised by The Times newspaper, Mr Gove argued that the difficulties faced by pro-independence campaigners in 2014 would be "magnified" if another ballot is held.
He said: "If Nicola Sturgeon were to be faced with the question which currency will you use if you are independent, if she were to be faced by the question how will you ensure you are able, if you wish to, to rejoin the EU when Spain and others will be opposed to it, all these questions become harder."
Those issues come "in addition to what we've seen happening to the oil price", Mr Gove said.
"I think the case for independence on sovereignty and economy grounds is a very weak one.
"What I would like to see is the Scottish government, whether it is SNP or I suspect after the next election a Ruth Davidson-led government, is to advance the position of the Scottish people within the United Kingdom, which they voted decisively to stay in."
Mr Russell, however, said there is still time for the British government to come to an agreement with Holyrood ministers to prevent another independence referendum.
The Scottish sovernment published a paper in December calling for Britain to remain in the single market, but it added that if that did not happen, Scotland alone could stay in the trading bloc.
He told the audience in Edinburgh: "We have to make the best of a bad job and that's what we're trying to do.
"I've been deeply involved in developing the options that are in the paper, the proposals are on the table for negotiation in good faith and we are arguing very strongly for it.
"There is still time for a negotiated agreement, on the basis of what is in the paper."
Mr Russell said the best scenario would have been for the UK to leave the EU but remain in the single market.
But as "that's not going to happen", with Theresa May having said the UK will leave the bloc, he said SNP ministers are now looking for Scotland to remain inside it.