ROME/LONDON (Reuters) - Britain sees no need for a second Scottish independence referendum and the devolved Scottish government should focus on improving the economy and tacking domestic issues rather than flirting with secession, a senior British minister said.
An opinion poll published on Wednesday showed support for Scottish independence rose after Prime Minister Theresa May proposed making a clean break with the European Union, stoking speculation that Scotland could demand another secession vote.
A demand for a second independence referendum from Scotland’s devolved government would throw the United Kingdom into a constitutional crisis just as PM May seeks to negotiate the terms of the Brexit divorce with the EU’s 27 other members.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said on Thursday that there was no need for a second referendum.
“We don’t see any need for a second referendum in Scotland,” Fallon told reporters at a joint news conference in Rome with Italian defence minister Roberta Pinotti.
“The Scottish government should get on with what it was elected to do which is to improve school standards in Scotland, to tackle the problems of the Scottish health service and above all to revive the Scottish economy where unemployment is now rising. Those are the priorities for Scotland, not a second referendum,” Fallon said.
May has repeatedly said she does not believe there is any need for a second independence vote in Scotland as 55.3 percent of Scots voted to stay in a 2014 referendum. In that vote, 44.7 percent of Scots voted for independence.
But the pro-EU Scottish National Party (SNP), whose ultimate aim is independence for Scotland, said May’s drive for what they call a “hard Brexit” against the will of most Scots had put independence back on the agenda.
When asked whether she would allow a second referendum, May told reporters: “We had the independence referendum in 2014.”
“The Scottish people determined at that time that they wanted Scotland to remain a part of the United Kingdom. The SNP at the time said it was a ‘once in a generation vote’,” May said.
While Brexit triggered the deepest political and financial turmoil in London since World War Two, it has also had far reaching consequences for the four countries that make up the United Kingdom - England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
While England and Wales voted to leave the EU, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay. Northern Ireland has been thrown into political crisis and faces an election next month while Scotland is hinting it may seek independence, breaking the 310-year union with England.
“What we should all now be doing is working together to ensure that the United Kingdom negotiates with the European Union, we get the best possible deal in that negotiation for trading with and operating within the single European market,” May said.
Editing by Guy Faulconbridge