The constitution is a reserved issue no matter what “wheeze” the First Minister announces on her proposed route to a second independence referendum next week, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has said.
Nicola Sturgeon is on Tuesday due to set out her Government’s plan for potentially holding a referendum on Scottish independence.
In a speech last week, she said she would not “stand here and pretend that there’s not challenges to navigate through”.
The UK Government has repeatedly rejected a section 30 order – a clause in the Scotland Act that would allow for a legal referendum to be held.
Mr Jack spoke to the PA news agency as he visited the Royal Highland Show near Edinburgh on Thursday.
He was asked about the paper published by the Scottish Government last week, the first in a series of documents intended to form its renewed prospectus for independence.
Mr Jack said: “The first paper was what she called a scene-setter, I responded saying we’ve seen it all before.
“There was nothing new there, there may be new things to come forward. But our position is not to get engaged in constitutional wrangling with the Scottish Government.
“We want to focus on the people’s priorities, on inflation rising, on the cost of living challenge, on the war in Ukraine.
“Those are the issues we would like to focus on and we would like the Scottish Government to focus on their issues – failing schools, the backlog in the NHS or on Covid.”
Asked if a different wording of the proposed question on independence would change his mind, he said: “I’m going to cross that bridge when I come to it.
“I don’t know what wheeze she’s going to come up with on Tuesday but I’m very clear that the constitution, rather like Trident and our nuclear deterrent, these matters are reserved very clearly in the 1998 Scotland Act, they’re reserved to the Westminster Government.”
But Scotland’s Constitution Secretary said the people of Scotland voted for a referendum in last year’s Holyrood election and as such should have one.
Angus Robertson told the BBC on Thursday: “This issue has already been decided in a Scottish Parliament election. The Scottish Government was elected with a mandate from the people that there should be a referendum.
“The Conservative Party lost the election. Alister Jack’s party has only six MPs at Westminster, and he describes democracy as a ‘wheeze’.
“It’s not a wheeze – the people should get what the people have voted for.
“The Scottish Tories have got a bit of a problem in understanding democracy, but maybe because they haven’t won an election here since 1955, that’s a reason.
“They stood in the election last year opposing a Scottish referendum and they lost the election.
“The SNP and the Greens both stood with a manifesto commitment that there should be a referendum, and won the election and we now form a Government with a majority in Parliament – in fact the biggest majority there has ever been in favour of a referendum.”
On rural matters given his attendance at the Royal Highland Show, Mr Jack was asked about the impact of Brexit and the changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol on farming.
He said: “We are dealing with the Northern Ireland Protocol through green and red channels, which we think is a very sensible way to solve the problem.
“Regarding Brexit, since Brexit, we’ve seen a rise in prices in milk, in lamb, in beef, so although costs have gone up, farmers are seeing the prices they get for their produce going up.”
He said the UK Government is working to bring down energy costs, which would help farmers through the prices of commodities like fertiliser.