Boris Johnson will use the Scottish Tory conference to underline his opposition to granting a second referendum, even if the SNP wins a pro-independence majority in May.
The Tory leader’s pitch, expected in a speech on Sunday, aims to blunt demands for a referendum.
However, it also risks undermining Scottish Tory claims that a big SNP win will inevitably lead to a vote on quitting the UK.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is still on course to lead the largest party at the Holyrood election. Polls in recent days suggest support has been pegged back while support for staying in the UK has edged in front.
The Telegraph newspaper reported Mr Johnson will stand firm on granting the legal “section 30” order needed for a Westminster-endorsed referendum.
It’s understood the hardline approach is backed by plans to push ahead with spending by the UK Government in Scotland. That has led to claims the Tories are ignoring devolution and mounting a “power grab” against the Scottish Government and parliament.
But there are echoes of former PM Theresa May’s “now is not the time” approach to a referendum. It was reported Downing Street want to make clear there will be no referendum “in the middle of a pandemic”.
SNP depute leader Keith Brown said: “The fact that the Prime Minister and his Tory colleagues are clearly spending so much time discussing how they can combat support for independence shows they are preparing for a referendum they know is inevitable in the face of a Holyrood majority for one.
“Bluntly, they wouldn’t be spending so much time on the issue if they thought their Trump-like bid to defy democracy could hold.”