Nicola Sturgeon does not want an independence referendum, according to a Tory former Scottish secretary, but is using it to distract from her “abysmal” record.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean said the First Minister and SNP leader would only want a vote when she was sure she could win it, and he claimed support was on the decline.
He also criticised Boris Johnson’s failure to travel north of the border and make the case for the Union.
Mr Johnson’s conspicuous absence was queried numerous times in the run up to the recent election to the Scottish Parliament.
Lord Forsyth made the comments as peers continued to debate the Queen’s Speech, which set out the Government’s legislative programme.
Ms Sturgeon has already told the Prime Minister that the Holyrood election – in which a majority of independence-supporting MSPs were returned – means it is now a case of “when not if” there is another vote on the issue.
It comes after the SNP was elected for a record fourth term in power, on the basis of a manifesto which promised another vote on independence before the end of 2023.
And while Ms Sturgeon’s party narrowly failed to get a majority, falling one short with a tally of 64 MSPs, the record eight Scottish Green MSPs that were voted in means there is a majority for independence in the new parliament.
Speaking at Westminster, Lord Forsyth said: “I’d like to share a secret and I find saying things in this House is a good way of keeping them secret… Nicola doesn’t want a referendum. The last thing she wants is a referendum.
“Because she only wants a referendum when she is sure she can win it. They themselves said that they would need at least 60% of the electorate supporting them and support is on the decline.
“But she does want to talk about having a referendum because it is a diversion from her record – her record which is abysmal.
“Scotland is the drugs capital of Europe with 24 funerals every week and she (Ms Sturgeon) thinks she should be concentrating on talking about the need for a referendum.”
Lord Forsyth also questioned where Cabinet members had been during the campaign, pointing out Michael Gove only came to Scotland the day after the votes had been counted.
He said: “We need ministers to go north of the border and explain to people how they benefit from having the strength of the United Kingdom around them, because they do not know it, and to lose it would put us in desperate, desperate times, faced with Nicola Sturgeon’s Brigadoon vision of an economy.”
Earlier in the debate, Advocate General for Scotland Lord Stewart of Dirleton warned against a further referendum, telling peers: “Now is not the time to stoke old divisions but to throw ourselves into what unites people across the UK – recovering from the pandemic.
“When we work collaboratively – one team UK – we are safer, stronger and more prosperous. Far better able to tackle the shared challenges that all parts of the UK face together.”
Conservative former Scotland Office minister Lord Dunlop, who carried out a review of devolution, said strengthening the Union required “urgent attention”.
He added: “However, in searching for solutions care should be taken not to overreact or adopt drastic changes which may inadvertently destabilise the relationships between the nations and regions of our country.
“For all the excitable commentary, the reality is as it was five years ago.”
Arguing there was no Scottish consensus on independence, Lord Dunlop said: “There will not be another independence referendum unless and until those wishing one think it can be won.
“And for those of us who care about the Union, the task is to ensure that day never comes.”