Tony Blair and Ruth Davidson have had a secret meeting about the prospect of a second independence referendum.

The former Labour Prime Minister asked to meet Ms Davidson when he was in Edinburgh last week and spent around 45 minutes with her one-to-one.

Mr Blair had returned to his home town on October 8 for a lunch with parliamentary journalists and a speech to the Reform Scotland think tank.

It has now emerged he also met the former Scottish Tory leader at a city hotel.

With support for independence rising to 50 per cent as a result of Brexit, it is understood Mr Blair spent much of the meeting asking Ms Davidson about the likelihood of Indyref2, and her views on how best to preserve the Union.

Both politicians fear a no-deal Brexit could trigger the break up of the UK.

Mr Blair did not meet Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard on his visit.

The SNP said the meeting showed senior Unionists were taking the prospect of Indyref2 seriously in spite of the UK government insisting it won’t happen.

On Tuesday, Nicola Sturgeon told the SNP conference that “cracks” were beginning to appear in the No campaign as it realised it was “unsustainable” to deny Scots a vote on their future if that was what people wanted.

Ms Davidson, who made her name opposing independence in 2014, has been tipped to lead a future No campaign if there is another referendum.

This month she said she was unlikely to stand for re-election to Holyrood in 2021, but there was “absolutely no way” she would sit out Indyref2 if it came.

“Whether anyone wants me to hold a position or whether they want me to go round, knock doors and hand out leaflets, I’m happy doing both,” she said.

During his lunchtime event, Mr Blair, who was Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007, described himself as a “convinced Unionist” and warned a no-deal Brexit would add “a whole additional dimension to the argument for independence” for Nationalists.

Asked which side would win Indyref2, he said: “I still hope and believe that the strength of the ties between Scotland and the rest of the UK will prevail.”

He also warned Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn not to make the Union a “bargaining chip” in order to gain power.

He said that if Labour emerged from the impending general election as the largest party it must not agree to Indyref2 in return for SNP support.

He said: “I don’t think that Labour should give any indication at all that it’s prepared to put the Union on the table as some form of bargaining chip. This would be, in my view, a major category error both in principle and politically. You shouldn’t do it.

“I think the question of whether there is another independence referendum has to be decided completely separately from questions of who forms the government of the UK.”

Mr Blair also referenced Ms Davidson by name, crediting her with following his own approach to power by aiming for the middle ground of politics.

He said: “My belief is that it will be clear over these next months that there is potential for renewal of the centre ground of politics. I think that’s true in the UK as a whole, I think it’s true in Scotland, as well.

“With the departure from the scene of Ruth Davidson, from politics in Scotland, there is a very open space for the competition for that centre ground vote.”

Writing in a newspaper on Sunday, Ms Davidson made no mention of her meeting with Mr Blair, but did return the compliment, calling him a “genuine political heavyweight”.

Discussing his TV interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil, she wrote: “You don’t win three general elections without having a bit about you - and Blair expertly thrust and parried his way through the interrogation. It was an absolute joy to watch two of the very best go at it full throttle - and a stark reminder of what thin gruel is served up elsewhere.”

Ms Sturgeon this week said Mr Corbyn shouldn’t even pick up the phone to her if he needed SNP help unless he was willing to grant a new referendum.

Although the First Minister has said a new vote of Scotland’s future “must happen” next year, the UK Government has so far refused to give Holyrood the power required to hold it legally.

Ms Davidson, 40, quit as Scottish Tory leader after eight years in August citing commitment to her new son Finn and her “conflict” over Brexit .

Her spokesman said: “As the MSP for Edinburgh Central, Ruth meets with a number of people from the private, public and charitable sector who have an interest in Scotland’s constitutional future and the ongoing debate regarding a second independence referendum.”

Mr Blair’s office said it did not comment on “private meetings”.