A FORMER chairman of the Scottish Conservatives has warned Boris Johnson it will be “counter-productive” to the unionist cause to continue ignoring calls for Indyref2.

Peter Duncan, who was the only Scottish Tory MP from 2001 to 2005, has issued an alert to UK Government ministers that continuing to refuse calls for a referendum will only harness support for independence.

Speaking on the Herald’s Brian Taylor Podcast, Mr Duncan suggested a UK general election could be held in 2023 instead of 2024, after which a referendum could take place.

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Pointing to the possibility of an election being held a year earlier in 2023, Mr Duncan said “there’s a potential that we might not see a referendum until after the next general election”.

The SNP and Greens insist that their pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament is a mandate for a second independence referendum to be held.

Mr Duncan said: “I’ve taken the view for some time that I think if the Scottish people express a view that they would like a referendum, then I think it is almost inevitable that it’s going to happen.

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“I think the longer it’s delayed and the longer it’s avoided, the more difficult it is for the unionist cause, which I support, to win that argument.

“I would say to my unionist chums - I think there is probably a case over the next five years when it becomes counter-productive to further postpone it.”

But Mr Duncan suggested it wasn’t in Nicola Sturgeon’s interests for a referendum to take place while support for breaking up the UK was not maintained at a high level.

He said: “I think the First Minster will look to hold this referendum when she thinks she can win it.

“It’s one thing to hold a referendum, it’s another thing entirely to achieve the political objective which she quite legitimately has.”

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The former MP stressed that delays in granting Indyref2 would boost support for the independence cause, insisting “it’s helpful for the First Minister to actually get further procrastination from Westminster”.

But he added: “As Quebec in Canada has shown, you only get two shots.

“If you lose the second one, it’s over.”

Also speaking on the podcast, former SNP constitution secretary, Mike Russell, accused Michael Gove and the UK Government of “gaslighting” after reports the franchise in a future referendum could be extended to Scots living in all parts of the UK and Mr Gove giving a fairly unconvincing “I don’t think so” answer to questioning over whether permission for another vote will be granted.

The Herald: Former SNP constitution secretary Mike RussellFormer SNP constitution secretary Mike Russell

Mr Russell added: “There is simply gaslighting going on, followed by people who want to troll the people of Scotland and make them angry about the attitude of the UK Government.”

Mr Russell, who has been named the SNP’s political director and will head up the party’s independence campaign, insisted there was a mandate from the Scottish people for a second referendum to take place following last month’s election when pro-independence parties secured a majority.

He said: “The question is when it should be held and that is up to the Parliament - the Bill says that.”

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Mr Russell was pressed on the lack of a vision for what an independent Scotland will look like and operate.

He said: “The argument at the moment is about having that vote.

“Once we’ve had that argument and succeeded in that argument and that vote is set, then we need a full and rational debate on the choices facing Scotland.

“There is work to be finished. That work was suspended on March 16 2020.

“One of the reasons I have accepted the First Minister's invitation to be active again in terms of the party activity is because I want to see that work finished. There are things that need to be done.”

The Brian Taylor Podcast goes out live each Thursday and will be available across all major streaming platforms tomorrow.