HOLYROOD does not express Scotland’s “definitive view” on constitutional matters, David Mundell insists, as he argues Scottish voters want a future of devolution not independence.

In an exclusive interview with The Herald to mark the 20th anniversary of the creation of the new Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Secretary is adamant that refusing to concede to Nicola Sturgeon’s call for a second vote on the nation’s future is fully in line with the devolved settlement.

When it is suggested that refusing the First Minister’s demand – mandated by MSPs in March 2017 – for so-called “indyref2” is not respecting Britain’s system of devolution, Mr Mundell disagrees and declares: “Yes, it is.

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“Because the responsibility for constitutional matters, such as holding a referendum, rests with the UK Government as part of the devolution settlement and, therefore, while the Scottish Parliament has the right to ask for a referendum - and I fully respect that right - we have the right to say No.”

When it is also put to him that Holyrood believes it represents the will of the Scottish people but he does not, the Secretary of State replies: “No…Scotland has two parliaments, it has two governments. The basis for a referendum was well-documented in 2014.”

Asked if it is, therefore, up to the UK Parliament to decide the limits of devolution, Mr Mundell tells The Herald: “I don’t recognise the way in which you are construing that because devolution means that certain matters are the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament, so like education and health, these are almost a full responsibility.

“I put through orders in this Parliament to ensure that policies I don’t agree with in Scotland are in force; free prescriptions, I didn’t agree with that policy at that time. I have put through the orders in this Parliament in relation to devolved matters even though I don’t agree with them because I accept the Scottish Parliament has responsibility. On the constitution, it is a matter that is reserved to the Westminster Parliament…

“The Scottish Parliament is entitled to express an opinion and a view in relation to other matters but it is not the definitive view of Scotland.”

The Cabinet minister explains how the nature of devolution means it has limits. “I have never suggested devolution is independence; it’s not. The judgement the people of Scotland made was: yes devolution of the issues and subsequent issues is the way forward because we have benefited from having two parliaments and from the best of both worlds as it is sometimes construed.”

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Mr Mundell expresses concern about how voters and, indeed, politicians conflate the Scottish Parliament with the Scottish Government; the public mindset, he believes, needs to change.

“Most people who have negativities towards the Scottish Parliament, what they mean is they don’t like the Scottish Government. Whereas here at Westminster, despite all its flaws…people don’t think John Bercow is running the country. They understand the House of Commons is different from Theresa May and her Government. We haven’t sufficiently been able to differentiate the Scottish Parliament as an institution[from the Scottish Government].”

Noting how no one is to blame for this situation, he says: “My dear friend Michael Russell, I have had to pull him up many times in discussions he has had here where he says the Scottish Parliament this and the Scottish Parliament that and he means the Scottish Government. They can conflate the two.

“The Parliament is different from the Government and for us the institution develops, grows, matures. All of these additional powers and responsibilities it is taking on or will eventually take on, when the Scottish Government can get round to dealing with them, we need to see that differentiation so people think the Parliament is different from the people who are running the Government.”

The Scottish Secretary admits that the Conservatives, who vehemently opposed devolution before the 1997 referendum fearing a Yes vote could break up the Union, should have been quicker to accept the new settlement, which was voted for by nearly 75 per cent of Scotland on a 60 per cent turnout.

He claims the Tories made a “perfectly legitimate case” in opposing devolution but “once it had become clear it was the settled will of the Scottish people, that it was going to happen, it would have been better to have accepted that earlier”.

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Mr Mundell, who has held his Cabinet post since 2015, goes on: “I always pay tribute to David McLetchie[the late Scottish Conservative leader] because what he did was as a leader he took us into that Parliament and acted in a combative but a constructive way and the 18 Tory MSPs who were elected in 1999 and all their successors have always embraced and worked for that Parliament and for devolution. Once the referendum decision had been made, they completely put behind their previous position.”

The 56-year-old MP for or Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale makes clear Holyrood has now established itself as part of Scottish life but its potential has been unfulfilled, not because of the Parliament itself but because of the governments since 1999.

“The initial Labour-Liberal Governments were dull; they didn’t take any risks really in terms of what they did. The smoking ban was probably the biggest challenge to orthodoxy that took place and I commend the Parliament for that decision.

“Since 2007[when the SNP took power] the constitution has ultimately dominated,” he complains, claiming the Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon administrations have held back the development of Scottish devolution.

“Education is the biggest indictment,” declares Mr Mundell. “If, 20 years ago as we took our oath, people would have said after 20 years of this Parliament there would be more young people leaving school without any qualifications at all, people would have been stunned.

“They believed as I did that this Parliament was about enhancing and taking forward Scottish education and its traditions and its differences and making it even better and that has not happened.

“I put a large part of that down to 10 years when the Scottish Parliament has spent focusing entirely on and such a big part of its emotional effort on the constitution. It’s unfulfilled.”

When it is pointed out how the Tories bang on about the possibility of Scottish independence because the constitution is just as good electorally and politically for them as it is for the SNP, Mundell says: “I can make a commitment right now that if Nicola Sturgeon takes independence and another referendum off the table, I’ll stop speaking about it. I can give that absolute commitment… Two weeks ago, the First Minister set out how there has to be another referendum, she wants to have a bill and Citizens’ Assemblies. I don’t want to have any of those things.”

But The Herald points out Ms Sturgeon and her colleagues would never take independence off the table and he knows it given the SNP’s raison d’etre is to campaign for an independent Scotland.

He adds: “The SNP’s route to independence used to be they would deliver good government; people will think we have done such a good job, we should be given the whole responsibility. That has been abandoned because their record on domestic issues has been so poor.”