LONDON (Reuters) - The British government is confident it can seal a good divorce deal with the European Union which will win over the people of Scotland but may never please its pro-independence ruling party, Scottish minister David Mundell said.
Mundell, Britain’s secretary of state for Scotland, told Reuters the government was ‘taking note’ of warnings that Scottish leaders are gearing up for a vote which could split the more than three-century-old union between Scotland and England.
But the British government does not believe another vote on independence should take place, he said.
“We are aware and take note of what the Scottish government say and do. It would be complacent not to do that,” he said in an interview at his office overlooking a parade ground just steps from Prime Minister Theresa May’s official residence.
Mundell, the only elected Conservative lawmaker for Scotland in the British parliament, said the government wanted a good Brexit deal for the whole country, but did not say whether there were particular aspects that would soothe Scottish concerns.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who became leader in 2014 after an unsuccessful referendum to break away and whose Scottish National Party holds 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats, has increased the volume on demands that Scotland must have a vote if the country is forced into a “hard Brexit”. [L5N1GD1M1]
She says Scotland should have a chance to decide its future because, unlike England and Wales, it voted to stay in the EU at a June referendum and to maintain preferential access to the bloc’s single market and free movement of labour.
Sturgeon also wants to make sure Edinburgh has a say over fisheries and farming policy - areas where Britain might look for compromise in EU talks.
But despite her accusations that the British government’s “sheer intransigence” over Brexit is driving Scotland towards independence, Mundell said he doubted whether there was, or would be, appetite for a new vote soon, citing polls.
Last month, an opinion poll conducted by BMG showed that support for independence had risen to 49 percent, not enough to guarantee success of such a vote, but for Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party, a sign that Scots do not like May’s Brexit plan. [nL5N1FT1FU]
Mundell said that while there could be another referendum, it would “require the agreement of the UK government”.
May has repeatedly said that there should be no second referendum, but the calls for exactly that add further uncertainty ahead of some of the most complicated negotiations Britain has waged since World War Two to leave the bloc.
She has said that a good deal for Britain will be a good deal for Scotland and Mundell disputed accounts by Scottish officials that the government was not listening to them.
He said there had been “six meetings in the two week period up until the end of last Thursday” but Sturgeon says the British government has not seriously considered a document she presented in December laying out Scotland’s Brexit options.
The Scottish minister doubted whether any agreement with European Union would be welcomed by Sturgeon’s party.
“Will we be able to please the SNP in this process? No. I can absolutely, categorically guarantee that,” he said. “But will we be able to satisfy Scottish public opinion? Yes, by getting a good deal ...The SNP will have to accept that.”
Editing by Angus MacSwan