NICOLA Sturgeon would “absolutely…not” have a mandate to hold a second Scottish independence referendum even if the SNP won a majority of seats in Scotland at the December 12 General Election, Alister Jack has insisted.

The Scottish Secretary, in an exclusive interview with The Herald at the start of the six-week election campaign, decried how the independence debate had helped sow deep division in Scotland and declared: “We should take separation right off the agenda.”

While Mr Jack made clear he would “not jump the gun” about what would be in the Conservative manifesto, his strong comments nonetheless did nothing to remove the idea that Boris Johnson would rule out facilitating a second vote on Scotland’s future for the full five years of the next Parliament.

After 101 days in office, the 56-year-old who was promoted to the Cabinet after only two years as an MP appears to be beginning to get the feel of high office as he sat in his grand ministerial bureau overlooking Horse Guards Parade and St James’s Park.

Less ebullient and more earnest than his predecessor David Mundell, “Union Jack”, as he once referred to himself, is a steely Brexiteer determined to see Britain’s departure completed by January 31.

But first the Conservatives have to win an election. The opinion polls, putting the Scottish Tories on just 21 per cent, down almost eight points since their impressive performance in 2017, point to losses among their 13 seats; where the SNP is the main challenger in all of them.

But Mr Jack was having none of it, insisting that in fighting hard to retain all 13 Scottish seats, the Conservatives, by promoting themselves as the party of Brexit, could win more, possibly by getting supporters of Nigel Farage’s party to switch to them.

READ MORE: Mark Smith: The 16 Scottish seats that matter – and the critical group of voters that will decide who wins them 

“If they back Brexit, the only party that is going to deliver Brexit out of this General Election is the Scottish Conservative Party. If you want Brexit, vote Conservative,” declared the Secretary of State.

He acknowledged: “We do start from 21 per cent but we also have the Brexit Party with six or seven per cent. We are the party that can deliver Brexit. We have a Brexit deal which we will be putting into our manifesto and we will be the only party going to the electorate and saying give us a majority to get Brexit out of the way, get Brexit finished.”

But, of course, while Brexit might dominate the battle for No 10 south of the border, the perennial constitutional question is once again set to be at the forefront in the political fight north of it.

With the SNP making clear that “Scotland’s right to choose” will be the central plank of its campaign, Mr Jack indicated that “standing four-square against a second independence referendum” would be at the heart of the Conservatives’.

A recent snapshot placed Scottish independence on 50 per cent support, causing the First Minister to claim that tide for Scotland breaking with the Union was on the rise.

Asked if she was right to make the claim, the Scottish Secretary declared: “I don’t accept that because the poll, which the Andrew Wilson’s Commission suppressed, showed 16 per cent of those who voted to leave the UK in 2014 have now changed their mind and the Survation poll that came out on the fifth anniversary of the Scottish referendum on independence showed 59 per cent of the Scottish population wanted to remain in the United Kingdom.

“We have a really strong case to put on that. Separation would be a terrible thing for Scotland. As we leave the EU we need to strengthen the Scottish economy and we will do that by taking away uncertainty,” explained Mr Jack.

Ms Sturgeon has insisted that if the SNP got a majority of Scottish MPs at the election, then that would be an “irresistible demand” for indyref2 and the UK Govt would be dutybound to facilitate a second vote.

“No, she absolutely would say that, wouldn’t she,” declared the Cabinet minister.

He argued that the Nationalist leader “persistently finds reasons” to promote independence and her call for a second vote to “distract people from the real problem in Scotland, which is, after a decade in power, they have failed to improve our NHS, failed to improve our education service, failed to improve public services. So, they distract us by constantly harping on about independence”.

READ MORE: Prime Minister Boris Johnson says ‘No’ to Nicola Sturgeon’s indyref2 demand 

But asked if he was saying that even if Ms Sturgeon and her party succeeded in getting a majority of Scots MPs at the election, they would not have a mandate for indyref2, Mr Jack replied: “I’m absolutely saying they would not have a mandate.

“To me, it’s very simple. We had a once-in-a-generation, her words, once-in-a-lifetime, she and the First Minister at the time Alex Salmond used those expressions, referendum in 2014, we had that, the people of Scotland decided to stay in the UK and they should respect that referendum and they should respect the referendum in 2016, which was a UK one.”

He went on: “We do not need and we do not want to have another independence referendum. We should take separation right off the agenda, deliver Brexit, which got a majority of 30 votes in Parliament, the Second Reading of the Bill, come back, deliver Brexit and start focusing on the good things we’re doing for Scotland; the City and growth deals, bringing COP26 to Glasgow next year. Let’s start delivering on the good things we can do for the Scottish economy, growing that economy, growing people’s prosperity as part of the UK.”

The Secretary of State stressed how Scotland had suffered the “double whammy” of division with the 2014 and 2016 votes and the task for a new Tory government would be to seek to heal the nation under Mr Johnson’s premiership.

“Both those referenda have been very divisive but not just in terms of politics but in terms of families, relationships; it has not been a good period in our history but we have to get Brexit sorted, push back the independence question, and start pulling together. We are all in the same rowing boat and let’s pull on the oars together. That’s my message.”

Last night, Ian Blackford for the SNP made clear that if his party did secure a majority of MPs in Scotland the UK Government could not stand in the way of indyref2.

“Alister Jack has to recognise we already have a mandate for an independence referendum from the 2016 elections. This time round we will be asking people to support Scotland’s right to choose. The Conservatives cannot ignore democracy,” he declared.

In the interview, Mr Jack also said:

*a new Tory Government would not seek to rush through a Withdrawal Bill in December as there would be “enough time in January to do it”;

*the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, that restricts Governments in how to call an election, had “not served us well in the last month and I would suggest we revisit it when we return”;

*even if there had to be a “flextension” to the December 2020 Implementation Period, the UK would leave the Common Fisheries Policy in 13 months’ time and

*getting Brexit done would open up the “sunny uplands of potential trade deals” with other countries.