Jeremy Hunt has suggested that even if the SNP won a majority at the 2021 Holyrood election as Prime Minister he would block a second independence referendum until further conditions were met.

The Foreign Secretary, who is one of six challengers for the Conservative crown, vowed to “halt the SNP in their tracks”, stressed he supported Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, and pledged to work alongside her to oppose a “divisive” Scottish poll and battle to maintain the United Kingdom.

"Scotland deserves a UK Government that sees the promotion and enhancement of the Union as a driving, daily mission," he declared.

He echoed the view expressed by Ms Davidson last week, that a government he led would only grant the necessary parliamentary device of a Section 30 Order to allow another vote on Scotland’s future to take place if the SNP won an "outright majority in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections".

But Mr Hunt went further and set two more conditions, including one whereby the SNP would have to provide a “clear timeline” for its proposal that Scotland abandon the pound.

He explained: "Scotland is too important for the UK economy and the UK too important for Scotland's economy to allow the SNP to break our nation apart without this. People's mortgages and pensions are at stake. Sturgeon must provide a clear timeline on her proposal to ditch the pound."

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The third condition is that the SNP would have to rule out “any suggestion of a wildcat referendum,” saying people needed to know they could trust the political process.

"Pushing for an illegitimate referendum would simply alienate people when we should be focusing on unity over division," he argued.

Mr Hunt stressed: "By supporting the Scottish people to pose these challenges prior to a Section 30 Order, my Government would lead the way on opposing independence."

Writing in the Sunday Times, the Secretary of State argued: "The SNP said they could only propose another referendum if a majority supported independence. The Scottish people will hold them to that test. And from the granting of a Section 30 order and the negotiations on the wording I will fight for the Union every step of the way."

He also took Nicola Sturgeon to task for her position during the Brexit process, stressing how she had "failed to listen" to Scottish businesses, which supported Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement.

Mr Hunt declared: "By supporting the Scottish people to pose these challenges prior to a Section 30 Order my government would lead the way on opposing independence.

"I want to use the economic engine of the UK Government to drive support for the Union. The SNP can and will be halted in their tracks because the truth is, workers across the UK want the same thing: a prime minister with an economic vision to deliver higher wages, better jobs and more money for our vital public services," he added.

The First Minister took to Twitter to respond, saying she "sits back and allows Tory arrogance and incompetence to further strengthen support for independence,” adding: “The Scottish people will decide Scotland’s future, no-one else."

Posting a link to the SNP 2016 manifesto, which included a commitment to holding a referendum if there was a "material change" such as Scotland being "taken out of the EU", Mr Sturgeon added: "There’s majority support for this in @ScotParl. Tories standing in the way of the will of the Scottish people never ends well for them. This time will be no different. #indyref"