BORIS Johnson has, as expected, rejected Nicola Sturgeon’s call for a second Scottish independence referendum, saying to hold another vote on Scotland’s future would “continue the political stagnation” of the last decade.

But the First Minister swiftly hit back, saying the Prime Minister’s predictable response showed the “Westminster Union” was not a partnership of equals and would only fuel support for Scottish independence, which would mean indyref2 was “inevitable”.

Mr Johnson, who has taken almost a month to issue his response to Ms Sturgeon’s pre-Christmas call for the power to hold another vote on Scotland’s future, told her: "The UK Government will continue to uphold the democratic decision of the Scottish people and the promise that you made to them. For that reason I cannot agree to any request for a transfer of power that would lead to further independence referendums."

His rejection comes after weeks and months of Mr Johnson flatly refusing to grant a so-called Section 30 Order to enable Holyrood to hold another poll. Before the General Election, he told The Herald that the 2014 vote was effectively “for good”.

The PM, his spokesman explained, raised his response at this morning’s Cabinet, which offered its "full support" for his decision to refuse Ms Sturgeon's request, and he pointed out this had been taken in “close consultation” with Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary.

The spokesman told reporters at the daily Downing St briefing: “The PM said: ‘This Government has an optimistic vision for Scotland and our whole country in 2020, investing in levelling up in every part of the UK.

"’We do not want the 2020s in Scotland to repeat the previous SNP's lost decade when Scottish schools, hospitals and jobs were left behind because of their campaign to separate the United Kingdom.’"

Asked for the PM’s response to the FM’s assertion that his rejection would simply fuel support for independence in Scotland, the spokesman said the sentiments Mr Johnson had set out in his letter “speak for themselves”.  

He said: “It’s very clear the PM believes we should be focusing on levelling up and providing opportunity across Scotland and not spending the 2020s fighting divisive further referendums when the SNP’s own senior leadership have made clear the 2014 referendum would settle this matter for a generation.”

Asked why it had taken a month for the PM to compose six paragraphs of a response, the spokesman replied: “Look, the PM said he would carefully consider the FM’s request. He has done so and we have sent the letter this morning and, in the interests of transparency, the public can see the PM’s reasoning in full.”

In her response, Ms Sturgeon claimed the Tories were “terrified” of Scotland having the right to choose its own future.

“They know that given the choice the overwhelming likelihood is that people will choose the positive option of independence.

“The Tories – and their allies in the leaderships of Labour and the Lib Dems – lack any positive case for the Union, so all they can do is try to block democracy. It shows utter contempt for the votes, views and interests of the people of Scotland and it is a strategy that is doomed to failure,” declared the FM.

She explained that her Government had anticipated the PM’s response but insisted: “It will not stand. It is not politically sustainable for any Westminster Government to stand in the way of the right of the people of Scotland to decide their own future and to seek to block the clear democratic mandate for an independence referendum.”

Ms Sturgeon argued that the problem for Mr Johnson and his colleagues was that the longer they tried to block a referendum, the more they demonstrated that the Westminster Union was not a partnership of equals and the more support for independence would grow.

“It will also mean for the Tories that the loss of half of their seats suffered at the recent General Election – fought by them on the sole issue of opposition to an independence referendum – will be only the start of their road back to political oblivion in Scotland.

“In short, as well as being unsustainable, the position set out today by the UK Government is also an entirely self-defeating one.”

The FM announced that she would set out the SNP administration’s “next steps” later this month when it would also ask the Scottish Parliament to again endorse Scotland’s right to choose.

“One thing, though, is clear: the people of Scotland will get the right to decide our own future in an independence referendum. The Westminster Union cannot be sustained without consent. Democracy will prevail. The only question is how long it will take the Tories and the rest of the Westminster Establishment to accept that inevitability,” she added.

Earlier this week, Ian Blackford, the Nationalist leader at Westminster, did not rule out the party taking court action should Mr Johnson issue a refusal to the Scottish Government’s request. He insisted the SNP would take things “step by step”.

In an interview with The Herald, the Highland MP claimed Cabinet ministers had told him privately that they believed the PM’s position was unsustainable, although he did not name the ministers.

No 10 responded by insisting the Government was united in its opposition to facilitate indyref2.

At Holyrood, Adam Tomkins, the Scottish Conservative Shadow Constitution Secretary, argued that Mr Johnson’s letter should now “draw a line under the matter”.

He said: “Scotland will not be dragged back to the divisive and uncertain days of 2014. That’s what people and businesses want to hear and now we can move on and focus on what really matters.

“Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP Government should have the grace and class to accept that the decision was made in 2014 and should be respected. By refusing, this irresponsible Nationalist Government has ignored schools, hospitals, the economy and justice, all to their severe detriment.

“It shouldn’t take a Prime Minister in Westminster to remind the Scottish Government what its priorities and responsibilities ought to be,” added the MSP for Glasgow.

Alex Rowley for Scottish Labour insisted the immediate priority for both the PM and FM should be minimising the damage caused by Brexit.

“There are conversations to be had in the future about other issues but at the moment the focus should be on protecting Scotland’s interests in the face of our imminent exit from the EU,” added the MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife.

Pamela Nash, Chief Executive of Scotland in Union, said: “The majority of people in Scotland don't want a divisive second independence referendum; it would lead to deeper divisions in society and cause further neglect of vital public services like schools and hospitals.

"Scotland deserves better,” she declared, adding: “Nicola Sturgeon should now focus exclusively on her devolved responsibilities and stop trying to inflict economic pain on communities. We are stronger together as part of the UK."