ABERDEEN, Scotland (Reuters) - Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, on Saturday pledged to resist any new referendum on independence from the United Kingdom just as support for secession rises.
The Conservatives, the party of government in Westminster, have seen their poll support slide in pro-EU Scotland over their handling of Brexit while support for the pro-independence Scottish National Party has risen.
On Friday local council elections in England provided stark evidence of how the fallout from Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union has undermined both Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.
In Scotland, it has meant support for independence from the United Kingdom is at a peak of the past four years, largely driven by voters who want to stay in the EU. A march in support of independence in Glasgow on Saturday was expected to attract tens of thousands.
Davidson’s championing of Scotland as part of the UK has made her the toast of moderate Conservatives, giving her higher public approval ratings than the woman she is trying to unseat, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
“I’ll make a firm guarantee now: If I am elected Scotland’s next first minister, there will be no more constitutional games and no more referenda,” Davidson, back at work after six months of maternity leave, told cheering Scottish Conservatives.
“We’ve had enough to last a lifetime,” she told the party conference in the city of Aberdeen.
Scotland, England’s political partner for more than 300 years, rejected independence by 55 to 45 percent in a 2014 referendum.
But Brexit has soured relations between north and south, partly because most Scottish voters wanted to remain in the EU in contrast to the result of the vote in Britain overall.
At the same time infighting and the mishandling of Brexit has whittled away the authority of the prime minister, eroding Conservative voter support.
In Scotland, support for the Conservatives in a future Westminster election has fallen five percentage points since last autumn to 22 percent, according to the average of three recent polls.
Asked how the Brexit wrangling could damage Davidson’s ambition to unseat pro-independence Sturgeon in the next devolved parliament elections, environment minister Michael Gove, who attended conference, told Reuters:
“I think that by the time it comes to 2021 elections that issue will have been resolved, and Ruth will be fighting on the side of the party that has delivered Brexit,” he said.
Returning to work this week after giving birth in October, Davidson, 40, again said she does not want to be prime minister.
But, as senior Conservatives jockey to replace May, speculation about Davidson continues to swirl despite her not having a seat in Britain’s national parliament at Westminster.
In an interview with Scottish politics magazine Holyrood, Davidson, who is gay, was characteristically candid about the impact of motherhood, talking about “bone-crushing” tiredness and the difficulties of combining work with new motherhood.
“It turns out you can type on a laptop one-handed while breastfeeding with the other...I wouldn’t recommend it, but it can be done”.
Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary; Editing by Alison Williams and Ros Russell