Continuing to dismiss calls for a new independence referendum could be counterproductive but the campaign to save the union is “rudderless”, senior Tories have been secretly warned.
A leaked strategy document prepared by a political consultancy firm with links to the Conservatives, and circulated to figures including Michael Gove, put forward a series of possible tactics for dealing with a surge in support for the SNP and independence.
The memo, which was obtained by the Bloomberg news agency, suggests that a “velvet no” approach, involving rejecting a referendum in the short term, could buy time but that an overhaul to the devolution settlement could also be needed.
Further devolution of powers could be rolled out after an SNP majority win next May, it is claimed, and eventually be put to the public in a referendum in an effort to “placate” demands for leaving the UK.
Other ideas put forward included pressuring the European Union to publicly reject the idea of Scotland rejoining the bloc as an independent country.
While Boris Johnson has so far refused to publicly countenance handing Nicola Sturgeon the powers to hold a new referendum should the SNP win a majority next May, some Scottish Tories believe refusing a mandate won in a democratic election would play into the nationalists’ hands.
Continuing to dismiss Scottish calls for another independence vote outright could be “counterproductive,” the memo said.
Addressing lack of key personnel among those on the “No” side of the independence debate, the authors claim there is “a vacuum of leadership within the Unionist movement which is leaving the campaign rudderless at a key moment.”
Polls suggest that the SNP is on course to claim a majority in next May’s election, although winning more than half of seats is difficult under the Scottish Parliament’s electoral system. A recent survey put support for independence at 58 per cent, a record high.
The 21-page strategy document was written by Hanbury, a firm set up by David Cameron’s former director of strategy.
“If the SNP builds on this momentum then the endpoint could be a full-blown constitutional crisis or a second independence referendum,” the report said. “Either of these outcomes would consume significant political capital for the Government.”
Patrick Harvie, the leader of the Scottish Greens, said the document showed the Tories were in a “panic” over the future of the union.
He said: “I don’t see any chance that voters in Scotland would be hoodwinked by Trojan horse solutions from a Government that has broken promises on devolution, dragged Scotland out of Europe and is in the process on giving itself a veto over Scotland’s democracy.”