Top Scottish Conservative says London should not block second independence vote

LONDON (Reuters) - A second referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom should not be blocked by Britain’s next prime minister, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives has said, in a boost to nationalists who wish to protect Scotland’s status in the EU.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson walks onto the stage to take part in The Great Debate on BBC One, on the EU Referendum in London, Britain June 21, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

Scotland overwhelmingly voted to stay in the European Union on June 23, putting it at odds with England and Wales which voted to leave. The result has put independence back on the agenda because many Scots voted to stick with the union in a 2014 referendum because it guaranteed EU membership.

Ruth Davidson, who leads Prime Minister David Cameron’s ruling Conservative party in Scotland, said that the British government in Westminster should not deny Scotland another independence vote in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the EU because it would not be democratic.

However, she said that she would campaign strongly against holding another referendum.

“Constitutionally the UK government shouldn’t block it, no,” she told BBC TV. “I would argue as strongly as I could that we should stay part of our biggest market and closest friend.”

Cameron announced he would resign after the vote for Brexit, and candidates to replace him have poured cold water on the prospects for a second independence vote.

The Scottish Conservative and Unionist party became the second biggest party in Scotland’s devolved parliament in May elections this year, and the pro-independence Scottish National Party is now just short of a majority.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has described the possibility of a new vote on secession as “highly likely” in the wake of the vote for Brexit, but has pledged first to try to investigate all means possible of keeping Scotland in the EU.

Davidson said that the SNP had been premature in talking up the prospects of a second independence referendum. She added that while talk of a new vote was destabilising, she would not advise a new British prime minister to overrule the Scottish government on constitutional grounds.

The SNP said Davidson’s comments marked a change in tack on her attitude towards a second referendum.

“This is a major and significant concession by the Scottish Conservative party since the Scottish Parliament elections less than 60 days ago, when they said they would stand against a second referendum and claimed there was no mandate for one,” a spokesman for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in a statement.

Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Michael Holden; Editing by Elisabeth O’Leary