Boris Johnson has made a last-ditch plea to voters ahead of Thursday’s Holyrood election, urging Scots to reject the SNP’s plan for a “reckless and irresponsible” referendum.
The prime minister’s comments came as opinion polls showed Nicola Sturgeon was on course for a slim overall majority at Holyrood.
Undeterred, however, Mr Johnson urged voters to use their ballots to send a message to the first minister that the focus should be on “rebuilding our economy and getting people into work”.
He said: “I think that most people in Scotland, most people around the whole of the UK, feel that this is not the time, as we’re coming forward out of a pandemic together, this is not the time to have a reckless, and I think irresponsible, second referendum.
“I think what most people want is to focus on the country and taking it forward and rebuilding our economy and getting people into work.
“That seems to me to be the priority.”
Despite strong words, Mr Johnson has been accused of “running scared” of Scots voters as he has failed to venture north of the border once during the campaign.
The SNP’s deputy leader at Westminster, Kirsten Oswald, also said that Mr Johnson’s opposition to an referendum was not sustainable.
She said: “It is not for the prime minister or for anyone else to decide the future of Scotland should be.”
“I think that, whilst the prime minister may like to talk tough, the reality is that he won’t, you won’t be able to stand in the way of the people in Scotland making that choice for themselves.”
To stage a legal referendum Westminster must pass a so-called Section 30 order, allowing a vote to go ahead, something Mr Johnson has repeatedly ruled out.
Ms Sturgeon’s intention, if she is re-elected to a pro-independence parliament, is to pass a referendum bill at Holyrood that would oblige the UK Government to strike it down in the Supreme Court, further deepening the rift between the two governments.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, speaking ahead of Thursday’s poll, urged voters to reject Ms Sturgeon’s “divisive” plan.
He said: “Liberal Democrats are going to spend the next 24 hours stopping the SNP.
“We want to stop another referendum on independence. It’s divisive and it’s not what Scotland needs.
“Liberal Democrats have made the argument – with Willie Rennie leading brilliantly – that we need to put recovery first.”