THE First Minister will call a second independence referendum this autumn, the Scottish Secretary has suggested.

David Mundell made the forecast in the handbook for the Scottish Conservative Conference in Aberdeen this week.

“I fear we will face a fresh call for a vote on leaving the UK in the months ahead,” he said in his Westminster Political Report to party members.

Nicola Sturgeon “reset” her March 2017 plan to hold a new referendum between Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019 in the wake of her party losing 21 MPs in the snap General Election last June. Ruth Davidson’s party gained 12 seats then to take the Scottish Tories to 13 MPs.

The First Minister has promised to update Holyrood on her plans in October and has previously said a referendum is “likely” before her mandate expires in 2021. Mundell said he expected the First Minister to push for another vote.

He wrote: “Those victories in June stopped Nicola Sturgeon’s dash for a second referendum in its tracks. It was the prize that many of those who voted for us wanted most.

“But I have been dismayed – though not surprised – that she is already back to her old tricks.

“I fear we will face a fresh call for a vote on leaving the UK in the months ahead but I remain as determined as ever to fight back and stand up for the majority of Scots who dread another, damaging bout of constitutional skirmishing.”

An SNP spokesperson said: “This is a desperate attempt at diversion from a Scottish Tory party that knows how damaging the Brexit shambles is for them. They have slumped in the polls and will fall further as Ruth Davidson’s authority – and control of her Scottish MPs – steadily seeps away.”  

Theresa May rejected the First Minister’s last request for the powers to hold one, and Mundell said in June he could see “no circumstances” in which the Tory Government would allow a vote before the 2021 Scottish election.

Elsewhere in his conference report, Mundell praised Davidson as “Scotland’s most popular politician” and said the party was “lucky to have her”.

However, he had faint praise for May, saying merely that she had made “good progress” by achieving agreement on the first phase of Brexit negotiations.

In her handbook message, Davidson didn’t mention May at all. Reports earlier this month suggested she has banned “toxic Tory” Brexiteers Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and Michael Gove from the conference.

Last week Davidson came under internal pressure over Brexit from four of her MPs – Alister Jack, Stephen Kerr, Ross Thomson and Colin Clark. They back Jacob Rees-Mogg’s stance of wanting the UK to seal trade deals after March next year.

The EU says this is impossible if the UK is in a transitional relationship with the bloc – which Davidson supports.