THE UK Government will not grant the Scottish Government the power to hold a second independence referendum before 2020, a senior Cabinet minister has suggested.

Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, told The Herald that Nicola Sturgeon did not have a mandate to stage another vote on Scotland’s future and Westminster had no intention of helping her hold one.

In an exclusive interview ahead of his visit today to a Midlothian firm that supplies electro-hydraulic systems to warships and submarines, Sir Michael was asked if the UK Government would facilitate another independence vote in this parliament. He replied: “No, forget it.

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Read more: Herald View - Gauntlet is thrown down to Nicola Sturgeon

“The respect agenda is two-way. She[the First Minister] is constantly asking us to respect the SNP Government but she has to respect the decision of Scotland to stay inside the UK in 2014 and the decision of the UK to leave the EU. Respect works two ways.”

His intervention into the heated debate about Scotland’s future is likely to prove highly controversial as the First Minister has argued that, if she felt the need to call for a second independence referendum, then it would be “inconceivable” the UK Government would refuse her.

David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, when previously asked about whether or not the UK Government, as the constitutional authority on referendums, would grant a Section 30 Order – the parliamentary device to empower Holyrood to hold a poll – has deflected the question, stressing how it was not a matter of could the Scottish Government hold another referendum but should they hold one and his view was firmly that it should not.

Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, has gone further. In September, she said she did not believe the UK Government should “go round threatening to block a second referendum in the same way that I thought it was wrong for the Spanish Government to say that they were going to block a Catalan referendum”.

She added: “You saw what happened there and the way people got onto the streets of Barcelona. It would play directly into the Nationalists’ hands.”

Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, has also said she believes a Section 30 Order should be granted for the same reason.

Yet, sources close to Theresa May have made clear the UK Government would not be willing to grant such a parliamentary order. One Cabinet minister declared: “Why would we? They don’t have a mandate for one.”

However, another Cabinet minister stressed how, if a request were forthcoming for another poll, that a detailed process would have to be undertaken, which would have to include an attempt to secure another Edinburgh Agreement between the UK and Scottish administrations.

Read more: Herald View - Gauntlet is thrown down to Nicola Sturgeon

Ms Sturgeon and her government are currently engaged in talks with the UK Government to see if Scotland could secure a differentiated deal so that it could stay within the European single market even though the Prime Minister has made clear the UK will leave it.

The FM has said she is engaged in the joint ministerial talks “in good faith” and is determined to “exhaust” the process. But, with Mrs May wishing to trigger Article 50 by the end of March, Ms Sturgeon has warned that “time is running out”.

In recent weeks, the rhetoric from the Scottish Government has intensified. On Tuesday, Michael Russell, the Scottish Government’s Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe, made clear that if Edinburgh was unable to secure a differentiated option for Scotland, then the FM would have “no choice” but to call a second independence referendum.

Asked if he believed SNP ministers when they said they respected the outcome of the independence poll of almost two and a half years ago, Sir Michael said: “They haven’t shown much sign of it; sometimes they behave as if they won the vote in 2014 and do need reminding that there was a very clear majority against leaving the United Kingdom.

“Look at what has happened since, with the collapse in the oil price and the growing understanding of the importance of the Union as a single market.”

When Mr Russell’s “no choice” remark was raised, the Secretary of State said: “Yes. I saw that…There is a danger they are boxing themselves into a corner over this. The European referendum was very clear; it was a vote on whether the UK should leave or not and[there was] a very clear majority that the UK should leave.”

Scottish ministers insist the SNP Government has a clear mandate to hold another poll on Scotland’s future if it so chooses because it said in its manifesto for the 2016 Holyrood elections that if there were a “significant and material change” to Scotland’s circumstances that prevailed at the time of the last vote, such as being forced out of the EU against its will, then this would be grounds for a second independence referendum.

Read more: Herald View - Gauntlet is thrown down to Nicola Sturgeon

Ms Sturgeon, who has consistently said another vote is “highly likely,” believes that because the SNP won last year’s Scottish parliamentary election, forming albeit a minority administration, then a public mandate was secured.

But asked if he thought the Scottish Government did indeed have a mandate to hold a second independence referendum, Perth-born Sir Michael said: “No. Where would that come from? They lost seats last May.”

Pointing out how the Scottish Government did not have a mandate because it failed to secure a majority at Holyrood, the Secretary of State said: “We may well have seen peak SNP. They lost the referendum, they lost seats. There are other voices in Scotland now, not least Ruth Davidson’s.”

Asked if, given he believed Ms Sturgeon and her colleagues had no mandate to call for a second poll, would the UK Government give them the power to hold one, he replied: “No. We have no plans to help them hold a second referendum. A second referendum is in any case a matter for the UK Parliament.”

Pressed if this meant the UK Government would not grant a Section 30 Order to facilitate a second referendum in this parliament ie before 2020, Sir Michael said: “No, forget it. The respect agenda is two-way. She is constantly asking us to respect the SNP Government but she has to respect the decision of Scotland to stay inside the UK in 2014 and the decision of the UK to leave the EU. Respect works two ways.”

Polls have suggested that Scotland’s views on independence are now no different from the 2014 poll with roughly 45 per cent in favour of it and 55 per cent opposed.

A snapshot at the weekend suggested that support for holding so-called “Indyref2” before the UK left the EU by spring 2019 had fallen significantly from 43 per cent last summer to 27 per cent now. Indeed, the Panelbase poll for The Sunday Times said a majority of 51 per cent did not want another independence vote held within the next few years.