A LEAKED document revealing that the UK Government is war gaming to stop independence suggests the Tories are in panic mode, the SNP have said.

Revelations included Boris Johnson's plans to ask Brussels to stop an independent Scotland from becoming a member and proposals for a full scale attack on Nicola Sturgeon ahead of the Holyrood election.

It also said the current strategy of continuing to say the 2014 referendum "was a once in a generation vote" was no longer effective.

The bombshell memo seen by Bloomberg News revealed a consultancy firm close to the Tory party was advising UK government figures - including Michael Gove - on tactics to delay or avoid a referendum and to placate rising support for independence for instance by giving the Scottish Parliament more powers.

READ MORE: UK Tories start war gaming to prevent Scottish independence

A series of polls has shown growing support for independence including last week's survey by Ipsos MORI poll revealing record backing at 58%.

"This leaked memo reveals that the Tories are in panic mode because people in Scotland know Boris Johnson’s government can’t be trusted to act in Scotland’s interests," said the SNP’s deputy Westminster leader Kirsten Oswald.

“The Westminster Government has launched an all-out power grab on the Scottish Parliament through its post-Brexit Internal Market Bill. And Scotland faces the devastating prospect for jobs of being dragged out of the EU against our will in the middle of a global pandemic and deep recession by a Boris Johnson government we didn’t vote for, with either a bad deal or no deal outcome."

She added: "The whole Westminster system is broken and it is time decisions about Scotland were taken by the people who live here.

“The Tory attempt to deny the right of the people of Scotland to decide their own future is completely unsustainable and undemocratic. Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands – not Boris Johnson’s."

One person familiar with the memo seen by Bloomberg News that a group was coming together to work on the issue. Gove’s office said it doesn’t comment on leaked documents.

The study wasn’t commissioned by the UK Government.

With coronavirus infections soaring, a rebellion over lockdown measures and talks on a trade deal with the EU deadlocked, the Prime Minister and his allies are battling on multiple fronts. In addition the UK Government is facing further pressure as support for independence grows.

Downing Street has repeatedly rejected calls for a second vote saying the 2014 was a "once in a generation event".

READ MORE: Scottish independence: What we learned from the Tories' leaked war gaming memo

The document sets out the uphill struggle the UK faces after the pandemic boosted the standing of Sturgeon and damaged the popularity of Johnson and the Conservative Party.

The 21-page memo was written by Hanbury, which was set up by Ameet Gill, former Prime Minister David Cameron’s one-time director of strategy, and Paul Stephenson, who was director of communications for pro-Brexit group Vote Leave.

One of the firm’s partners is James Kanagasooriam, who worked with the Scottish Conservatives on elections in 2016 and 2017.

The report covers the state of play, voter and polling trends, a strategy for next year’s Scottish elections and what do to in the event of an SNP majority.

"If the SNP builds on this momentum then the endpoint could be a full-blown constitutional crisis or a second independence referendum,” the report said.
"Either of these outcomes would consume significant political capital for the government."

The memo suggests the Tory campaign should focus on the SNP’s record in Government and as they see it making the party “pay the price” for running Holyrood since 2007.

The strategy also argues that “a hard-hitting, attack-focused” campaign against Sturgeon could shift votes.

It also suggests developing a plan to try and win back pro-EU Scots who may have been pro-Union before the EU referendum but have switched to support independence.

It advises the UK Government to put forward policies in areas such as the environment and immigration to win them back.

In a 2014 independence referendum, Scotland voted 55% to 45% to stay in the UK after a last-minute promise of greater autonomy over areas such as finance and the economy

The report said one way of trying to break the link between independence and remaining in the single market is by “co-opting the EU into demonstrating that there is no viable pathway to renewed membership,” the report said.

Brexit has changed the game and makes the conventional argument against a rerun of the 2014 referendum - that it was a “once in a generation” vote - no longer effective, it said.

“Put simply, there are not enough Leave voters to convert to the ‘No’ side to make up for the movement of Remain voters into the ‘Yes’ camp,” the memo stated.

Another challenge identified by the memo is a lack of key personnel among those on the “No” side of the independence debate. The authors claim there is “a vacuum of leadership within the Unionist movement which is leaving the campaign rudderless at a key moment.”

The memo offers three steps the UK Government could take to mitigate the pressure: “​New accommodation, new constitutional settlement, and cooperation rather than confrontation​.” It describes the first step as a “velvet no” that rejects a referendum in the short term and buys time.

The UK Government should instead focus on a “Four Nations, One Country” policy by transferring further financial powers, differentiation on policies connected to the EU vote, such as immigration. The document says that the new settlement will be the subject of another paper.

One of the people familiar with the positions within the Conservatives told Bloomberg that there were contrasting voices within the party, with some saying there should be no referendum and no more ceding of powers.

Another option set out in the memo would be to prepare a new constitutional plan ready to roll out in case of an SNP victory in May. These measures could eventually be ratified via a referendum as a “placation” against the SNP’s demands for an independence vote, the document says.