DOUGLAS Ross has claimed he wants independence to be a “non-issue” at next year’s Holyrood election in light of Boris Johnson ruling out a second referendum.

Despite the Scottish Tories making the SNP threat to the Union the focus of recent campaigns, their new leader said he would rather it melted into the background.

He also denied his record as a UK minister in the Scotland Office until May would be a "millstone” when tackling the SNP Government over its record tackling coronavirus.

After December’s general election, Nicola Sturgeon asked Boris Johnson to give Holyrood the power to hold Indyref2, saying she had a clear mandate from the electorate.

The Prime Minister refused in January, citing Ms Sturgeon and Alex Salmond’s “personal promise” that the 2014 referendum was a once in a generation vote.

He said: "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.

"Another independence referendum would continue the political stagnation that Scotland has seen for the last decade, with Scottish schools, hospitals and jobs again left behind because of a campaign to separate the UK.”

But with polls indicating an SNP majority in next May’s Holyrood election, there is growing speculation Mr Johnson may allow Indyref2 if voters back Ms Sturgeon’s position.

Asked today whether Mr Johnson’s refusal made Indyref2 a moot point in the election, thereby denying the Scottish Tories one of their traditional battle cries, Mr Ross said: “The Prime Minister has been very clear in his position on another divisive independence referendum six years on from our once in a generation vote.

“I really hope it is a non-issue next May because that means politics has moved on from the constitutional division that has dominated our political debate in the last six years.

“That has suited the SNP because they don’t have to defend their record on failing services. 

“What we’ve seen from young people demonstrating in Glasgow today, they want to see their politicians focusing on education and on their future, and that’s what I’m looking to do as leader of the Scottish Conservatives.”

Asked whether Mr Johnson’s refusal meant Unionists could back the SNP next year knowing the UK was safe, Mr Ross said the SNP would still try to use every vote to justify independence and continue constitutional division. 

He said: “Sadly, the SNP will use every opportunity to divide our country and separate Scotland from the rest of the UK, the most successful economic and political union the world has seen, and they will use next May’s election for their ultimate aim as well.

“What I want to make loud and clear is the strongest pro-Union party on the ballot next year will be the Scottish Conservatives that I lead.

“But I also want use to focus not just on that constitutional argument, but positive cases for remaining part of the Union, and a positive vision for using our devolved powers in Scotland to improve the lives of people the length and breadth of the country.”

Mr Ross, who became leader unopposed on Wednesday, also denied that his time as a UK minister at the start of the pandemic would haunt him when his party challenged the SNP Government’s record on Covid.

He said: “Do I think my role within the UK Government is a millstone around my neck during this pandemic? No, I don’t. I think what people expect is the UK and Scottish Governments to work together, which they did successfully at the early stage of this pandemic.

“I will be constructive if I think the Scottish Government have taken the right approach but I will also scrutinise any errors that have been made to ensure the are not repeated.”