Jacob Rees-Mogg, the House of Commons leader, cited “little local difficulties” in the SNP as a major reason not to hold a second poll on a breakaway.
It comes amid a tumultuous row between Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond, with the SNP leader dismissing her predecessor’s claims of a plot to bring him down as “absurd” during eight hours of testimony at Holyrood on Wednesday.
Mr Rees-Mogg highlighted both the ongoing SNP civil war and the coronavirus pandemic and reasons a second plebiscite would not be appropriate.
“It seems to me it would be reckless in the midst of sorting out a pandemic, getting the economy back on its feet and some little local difficulties going on with the leadership of the Scottish National Party to be proposing a referendum at this point,” he told MPs.
Speaking in the Commons, SNP MP Angus MacNeil asked the Tory minister: “If the Scottish people … were to vote for independence at the ballot box, would he respect that choice?”
Mr Rees-Mogg, in his reply, said: “There was a referendum, he may have forgotten, in 2014 in Scotland which settled the issue.”
The latest poll shows support for independence among Scots stands at 53 per cent. The Savanta ComRes survey for ITV’s Tonight shows majority support for separation, but also revealed a five-point dip since the same company found 58 per cent backing for a breakaway in October.
More significantly, however, the poll found that with 71 per cent of Scots believe the country would fare better without being part of the UK.
Elections to the Scottish parliament are scheduled for 6 May, and polls put the SNP on course to win a majority of seats. Ms Sturgeon has said she will seek to hold a “legal” referendum if her party gets a majority.
Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie said on Thursday that Ms Sturgeon put in a “very good performance” at the committee investigating the Scottish government’s botched investigation into Mr Salmond – but suggested some details were still lacking.
“It was very polished, as we’ve come to expect of her,” she said. “But in the torrent of words that were exchanged over the eight hours I’m not sure that in some areas, where we needed quite specific detailed answers, that we actually got them.”
Fellow committee member Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “If the first minister of Scotland has proven to have misled parliament, I cannot see how the Scottish people would want to trust such a person.”
Ms Sturgeon still faces a separate inquiry, by James Hamilton QC, looking specifically at whether she broke the ministerial code during the Salmond saga. It is not known when he will conclude his probe.