IAN Blackford enjoys being part of the “Westminster furniture” too much to risk it on a second independence referendum, Michael Gove has claimed.

The Cabinet Office minister said the SNP Westminster leader was “a lovely chap and a good friend” but in no hurry for a vote that could upend his political career. 

Mr Blackford said he wanted Indyref2 “in a timely manner” but refused to put a date on it, despite Nicola Sturgeon saying it should be by the end of 2023.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Mr Gove dismissed Mr Blackford’s assertion that it was only a matter of time before Boris Johnson conceded Indyref2.

Asked if he could imagine any circumstance in which the Prime Minister would do so before the next scheduled general election in 2024, Mr Gove said: “I don’t think so.

“Ian’s a lovely chap and a good friend. Ian enjoys being in Westminster so much, I suspect that he probably wouldn’t want a referendum any time soon either.

“I mean, you know, he’s a lovely part of the Westminster furniture. But more broadly, no.”

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The comment is an attempt to stoke division in the Yes movement, where the SNP is already faces criticism from Alex Salmond’s Alba party about letting independence “go cold”.

Also talking to the Telegraph for a documentary on Scottish independence, Mr Blackford was asked when he would like to hold Indyref2.

He said: “The message that we’ve got from the people, I think in general is that people understand that there will be a referendum. There is a majority in parliament for that.

“But there’s also a message that people expect us to deal with the pandemic first, so let’s do that. And from a position of safety, as we’re discussing economic recovery.. If we’re to deliver the economic recovery we want to see, then the parliament has to have the powers to deliver that. So in a timely manner. I don’t want to put a date on it.

“I understand why, for a lot of people, that discussion on timing is important. I get that.

“I think he [Mr Johnson] recognises that he can’t deny democracy. The SNP have won this [Holyrood] election in Scotland with 48 per cent of the vote.

“It’s not a good look for Boris Johnson to say, ‘That’s not good enough’. 

“Of course it’s a mandate, and he recognises that he’s going to have to come to the table and give that authority to the Scottish Parliament to call the referendum. It will happen.”

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If the SNP secured a Yes vote in another referendum, its MPs, including Mr Blackford, would no longer be at Westminster, while if it lost, it could lead to the party fracturing in the wake of a second defeat.

Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants Indyref2 by late 2023, Covid permitting, and independence in 2026 if there is a Yes vote.

However Mr Johnson has refused to grant Holyrood the powers for a legally watertight vote.

Ms Sturgeon has threatened to put referendum legislation through Holyrood regardless if he continues to refuse, raising the prospect of a battle at the UK Supreme Court to see if Holyrood does have the power to hodl such a referendum without Westminster consent.

The Union is reserved to Westminster under the 1998 Scotland Act, but some legal academic argue Holyrood could still test public opinion on whether to end it.

Mr Blackford said of that possibility, “let’s see what happens”, but said he would prefer the issue did nott end up in court.