The UK government would not stand in the way of another vote on Scottish independence if it is the “settled will” of voters, Michael Gove has said.
Westminster has repeatedly rejected requests from the Scottish government for the necessary powers to hold another vote but the Cabinet Office minister said if the public desire a second referendum, “one would occur”.
The comment follows a decline in support for independence. After about six months of consistent polling showing majority support for separation last year – with one poll going as high as 58% in favour – the tide began to turn at the beginning of 2021.
The most recent survey by Panelbase for the Sunday Times found 48% of the 1,287 respondents supported leaving the UK.
Gove told the Sunday Mail: “The principle that the people of Scotland, in the right circumstances, can ask that question again is there.
“I just don’t think that it is right, and the public don’t think it is right, to ask that question at the moment.
“If it is the case that there is clearly a settled will in favour of a referendum, then one will occur.”
It is unclear what would convince the UK government that another vote is the “settled will” of Scots but it could mean positive election results for independence parties or continuous polling in favour for a certain period of time.
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, said he believed May’s election to be an indicator that the “settled will” of the Scottish people was in favour of independence.
The SNP fell just one seat short of a majority in Holyrood in the election and are in talks with the Scottish Greens over an alliance on certain issues.
Blackford said: “It should not be news that the Tories are finally waking up to the fact that the people of Scotland have expressed their democratic wishes in an election that they want their future to be put into their hands.
“The fundamental point Michael Gove missed is that the people of Scotland have spoken and expressed their settled will that they want to hold a referendum when they elected a majority of independence-supporting MSPs to the Scottish parliament just over two months ago.
“If Boris Johnson continues to ignore the mandate given by the people of Scotland to hold a referendum then he will continue to tell the people of Scotland that their opinion does not matter. That will only push support for independence up.”
Gove also rejected the chance of a third tilt at the leadership of the Conservatives, after failing in 2016 and 2019.
“Historically, people who have run to be prime minister in the Tory party and don’t make it don’t subsequently make it,” he said.
“I’ve had two goes and got bronze both times. I don’t think I’ll get the gold medal and I have to recognise that.
“I think Boris will be prime minister for a good while yet and there is a crop of younger people coming up who would be much better equipped than me.
“I won’t spoil their future by naming them but there comes a point where you have to recognise you’ve had your shot.”