Robert Peston details Boris Johnson masterplan to thwart Nicola Sturgeon independence plot

Nicola Sturgeon's voting plans criticised by Vine panelist

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Despite the SNP being one seat short of an overall majority after the Scottish parliament elections, the final results still leave Holyrood with a pro-independence majority. Although calling for a second vote on independence, Ms Sturgeon said her focus is steering Scotland through the coronavirus crisis.

A spokesperson for the First Minister said her “immediate focus was on steering the country through Covid and into recovery, and that a newly elected Scottish government would work with the UK Government as far as possible on that aim”.

But they added: “The First Minister also re-iterated her intention to ensure that the people of Scotland can choose our own future when the crisis is over and made clear that the question of a referendum is now a matter of when – not if.”

However, ITV’s political editor Robert Peston has exposed Mr Johnson’s plot to delay a second Scottish independence vote.

Mr Peston said: “Boris Johnson’s revealed preference is to persuade the people of Scotland of the merits of remaining within the UK, rather than exploiting the Westminster Government’s ‘reserve power’ to veto independence.

“He wants to avoid what would be widely seen in Scotland as the tyranny of Westminster depriving the Scottish people of a voice on their future.

“That means a referendum in around three years is likely – which does not mean independence for Scotland is likely.”

Back in 2014, the Scottish public voted to remain part of the UK but support for independence soared during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, a new Survation poll found that only 12 percent of Scots believe the incoming SNP government should prioritise another referendum in the short term.

The SNP has vowed to introduce legislation for a second vote but the UK Government could challenge this in court.

Mr Johnson said the priority is for the UK to come out of the pandemic and “build back better together”.

He told the Downing Street press conference: “I had good conversations with all the heads of the devolved administrations and I can tell you everybody was resolved that the number one priority for the whole of the UK was to build back better, come out of the coronavirus pandemic and build back better together.”

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the SNP’s demands for another vote revealed a “skewed set of priorities” while the country recovers from the pandemic.

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He told Sky News: “No, we’re not even going there at the moment.

“To start speculating about this type of legislation or that type of court hearing and all the rest of it, it’s just a massive distraction.

“I’m not interested in going down that blind alley.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has said he expects another Scottish independence referendum “when the time is right”.

However, he said Ms Sturgeon and Mr Johnson have “misjudged” how long recovery from the pandemic will take.

Douglas Ross, Scottish Conservative leader, ruled another referendum could be judged illegal by the Scottish government’s chief legal officer.

Mr Ross argued the Scotland Act 1998 makes it clear holding a referendum is a “reserved” matter requiring Westminster approval.

He said: “It is not within the competency of the Scottish Parliament to hold another independence referendum.

“In 2014 we had the gold standard, which was one which secured a section 30 Order.

“I would expect the holder of the Office of Lord Advocate to uphold the competency of what the Scottish government can and cannot do.”

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