Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has admitted a UK government unit aimed at countering support for Scottish independence has been hit with “troubles and difficulties”.
It follows the exit of two leading figures at Boris Johnson’s union unit this month, amid reports of tensions over strategy.
Oliver Lewis is understood to have quit as the head of the unit over “untenable” differences with others at No 10 – less than three weeks after former Scottish Tory MP Luke Graham left the same job.
Mr Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, insisted Downing Street did have a “strategy” for saving the union, but conceded to problems setting up a team dedicated to working on the issue.
“Look, there’s no point trying to hide from the fact there’s been troubles and difficulties with all this,” he told an Institute for Government livestream event. “That’s been very clear.”
He added: “But it doesn’t mean the underlying aim of this government and all Conservative and Unionists is not to protect Scotland’s role in the United Kingdom.”
It comes as a report in The Times suggested there was a new mood of “realism” within government on the prospect of a second Scottish independence referendum.
“There’s a realism that you can’t just say no for ever,” one Tory source told the newspaper. “Whitehall want to prepare for the eventuality that it might happen.”
SNP MPs and MPs have shared their excitement over the possibility of a new approach to indyref2 at No 10.
“I’ve never believed Boris Johnson would be able to resist the pressure,” tweeted MP John Nicolson. “The key is to deliver an election mandate he can’t ignore.”
However, the Scottish Tory leader said he remained firmly opposed to indyref2 should Nicola Sturgeon’s party push for a plebiscite after winning a majority at the Holyrood election in May.
Asked if there were any circumstances in which he would accept another vote taking place, Mr Ross said: “No I don’t want that. I didn’t want to have a divisive referendum in 2014 but clearly there was a process that allowed that. A legitimate, legal process.”
He added: “We were told by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP that was the gold standard of referendums and they would respect the outcome of that referendum and they clearly didn’t.”
Earlier this month the government advertised for four roles in policy and strategy at the union unit, as it seeks to bolster its union-saving efforts ahead of the Scottish parliamentary election.