DAVID Mundell has said it would not be “fair” to give Scots a vote on independence.

The Scottish Secretary made the comment in his reply to a letter sent by Angus MacNeil to Theresa May last month.

His letter was written on the same day May faced a bid by her own MPs to oust her amid their anger over the withdrawal agreement the PM negotiated with the UK. She managed to survive the no confidence vote, but more than a third of her MPs wanted her to go.

MacNeil wrote to May a few weeks ago asking whether her preferred route to independence would be to agree a Section 30 order, the legal mechanism agreed ahead of the 2014 vote, or whether it would be better to achieve it through a majority of SNP MPs being returned to Westminster.

The latter option was put forward by former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who said that if a majority of SNP MPs were elected on a campaign promise of achieving independence, their election would provide such a mandate.

May declined to personally reply to MacNeil and asked Mundell to do so on her behalf.

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“Whatever our differences on [independence], Scotland is leaving the EU along with the UK and we need to make sure we deliver the best possible deal. That needs us to work together constructively,” he said.

“All our focus should be on the deal that has been agreed with the European Union – a deal that works for the entire United Kingdom – which sets the framework for a future relationship with the EU that delivers in our national interest.

“It would be unfair to the people of Scotland to ask them to make a crucial decision at this time.”

Former Tory PM Margaret Thatcher said that if a majority of SNP MPs were elected on a campaign promise of achieving independence, their election would result in such a mandate.

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MacNeil’s letter was sent to the PM on November 14, and was backed by six SNP MPs – Hannah Bardell, Philippa Whitford, Lisa Cameron, Martyn Day, Carol Monaghan and Joanna Cherry.

MacNeil added: “It’s quite amazing that Theresa May avoids answering this, but we do know through her puppets in the Scotland Office that her thoughts are no referendum. Her position is unsustainable. The Scottish Government should now be telling Theresa May to revoke Article 50 or we hold an independence referendum. We should give her a two or three week window to do that.”

Earlier this month the First Minister said the route to independence was via a referendum.

“On the question of a referendum, it is (Scottish National Party) policy, it continues to be SNP policy, that the route to independence is through a referendum,” she said.

“That is for good reason. That is the way to pass the test any vote of that nature has to pass, a chance for people to unambiguously express a majority view for independence in a process that is legitimate, and would be accepted.”

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Nicola Sturgeon is expected to give an update on her thinking on a second independence referendum in the new year and has said she wants to wait “until the dust has settled” on the crisis at Westminster over May’s Brexit deal.

Last weekend a Panelbase poll of 1028 voters found Scots prefer independence to a no deal Brexit by a margin of three to two.

Voters also believe independence would be better than a negotiated Brexit settlement.

The survey found 59% of respondents agreed that independence would be better than a no-deal Brexit, with 41% disagreeing.

However, when asked how they would vote in an independence referendum, voters would still back the Union by 53% to 47%.