DOUGLAS Ross has warned his party will snub a “pretend referendum” ahead of Nicola Sturgeon setting out her plans for Indyref2 to Holyrood.

The Scottish Tory leader said he would not “play Nicola Sturgeon’s games on this issue” and said the constitutional question had already been “answered in 2014”.

The First Minister is due to make a statement at Holyrood tomorrow explaining her “route map” to a new independence referendum in light of Boris Johnson refusing to cooperate.

Ms Sturgeon has said she would like a repeat of the “gold standard” process of 2014, when the referendum was agreed by Edinburgh and London, and the vote was put beyond legal challenge by Westminster lending Holyrood the required powers under a Section 30 order.

Mr Johnson refused a Section 30 order request in early 2020, leaving Ms Sturgeon to admit she may have to proceed without one, a legally fraught option.

If the Lord Advocate allowed an Indyref2 Bill to go through parliament, it would be challenged at the UK Supreme Court and potentially ruled ultra vires.

Asked on BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show about Tuesday’s statement, Mr Ross said: "I'm not going to play Nicola Sturgeon's games on this issue.

“I'm going to take no part in her pretend referendum when there's real work to be done, real work to tackle the cost of living crisis in Scotland, real work to support our NHS, real work to improve our educational standards, real work to get our justice system back on the side of the victims rather than the culprits, making sure that local government has the support it needs to deliver essential services.

“These are all the priorities I hear from voters right across the country, not another independence referendum because Nicola Sturgeon just wants to divide us all over again.”

Reminded that the pro-independence SNP and Greens won a combined majority of the Scottish Parliament’s seats at last year’s election, Mr Ross was asked whether referring to a pretend referendum was “pretty insulting” to at least half of the electorate.

He said: “I think even Nicola Sturgeon said the 2014 referendum was the gold standard, that was the agreement of the UK government with a Section 30 order.

“Now we know that Nicola Sturgeon has not even asked for another Section 30 order, yet she is going forward with her plans to hold another referendum when it’s not the right time.

“It’s not the priority of people across Scotland when there are so many other pressing issues that the Government and politicians of all parties should be focused on.”

Pressed on how Scots could democratically achieve independence if denied a referendum, Mr Ross said the constitutional question “was answered in 2014”.

Asked for a positive argument for the Union, he cited the responses to the Covid pandemic and the cost of living crisis. 

Speaking to his party's National Council in Stirling today, Alba leader and former SNP First Minister Alex Salmond said: "No time in history has been better to press Scotland’s will against Westminster as a puff of wind would blow over Boris Johnson. 

“The Section 30 route is not a Gold Standard, it was a compromise and the the UK Government agreed to it because the Scottish Government made David Cameron and George Osborne think that other options such as a plebiscite would be progressed if they did not agree to the 2014 independence referendum. 

“However, the Scottish Government now need a campaign of popular agitation for when Boris Johnson says no. It must also include parliamentary agitation. You could grind Westminster to a halt with the over 40 MPs the SNP have. 

“There is not a better time to seek international and diplomatic support than when Boris Johnson is Prime Minister. In 2014 the UK Government sought intervention from foreign Government’s in the independence referendum, today Britain has few if any friends in Europe or across the world

“Scotland has an inalienable right to self determination. I have no doubt that the people are willing if the right leadership is there and Alba’s role in Scottish politics will be to ensure the Scottish Government deliver on their promise to deliver a test on independence next October and that we play our part by putting forward the arguments as to why Scotland can, and should be, an independent country.”

The SNP likened Mr Ross’s attitude to democracy to that of Donald Trump 

MSP Rona Mackay said: “In his desperation to defend the indefensible, Douglas Ross is increasingly like Donald Trump. 

“Denying the reality of the SNP’s 2021 election victory - which was even greater than the one of 2011 - makes him sound exactly like the former US President and his supporters.

“It is a damning indictment of the Tories’ destruction of standards in public life that they are prepared to deny Scotland even basic UN human rights. That is a shameless betrayal of democracy.”

Scotland’s leading polling expert, Professor Sir John Curitce of Strathclyde University’s politics department, told the Scottish Sun on Sunday that Unionists had to be clearer about why Scotland should stay in the UK, rather than ducking the “substantive” debate.

He said: “If you are a unionist, what you need to do is persuade the people of Scotland that the Union is a good idea and not go on endlessly repeating the argument about process.

“The point is you’re not going to persuade anyone on the substantive issue unless you engage in the substantive debate, which is not what the Conservatives are doing and I’m not sure Labour are either.

“At some point you are going to have to say why actually being inside the United Kingdom is a good idea.”

Ms Sturgeon, who intends to hold Indyref2 in October 2023, said this weekend that Scottish independence was essential to resolving the cost-of-living crisis. 

She said: “The cost-of-living crisis did not happen overnight.

“Years of benefit cuts, pay freezes and failure to tackle rising energy bills, these were deliberate political choices forced on Scotland by Westminster governments that we did not vote for, and have had a devastating effect on living standards.

“These decisions help explain why independent countries comparable to Scotland outperform the UK on a range of indicators, wealthier, more equal and with less poverty, and therefore more able to withstand cost-of-living pressures.”

The First Minister earlier this month acknowledged Scottish independence was “not a guarantee of success”, but would let the country make its own choices.

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, urged Ms Sturgeon to use her existing powers to “tackle poverty”.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “Now is not the time to be talking about another referendum. People across Scotland rightly want and expect to see both of their governments working together with a relentless focus on the issues that matter to them, their families and communities.

“That means tackling the cost of living, protecting our long-term energy security, leading the international response against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and growing our economy so that everyone has access to the opportunities, skills and jobs for the future.

“We are using all the tools at our disposal to bring inflation down and combat rising prices – we can build a stronger economy through independent monetary policy, responsible fiscal policy which doesn’t add to inflationary pressures, and by boosting our long-term productivity and growth.”