THE Tories are in “deep panic mode” over the future of the Union as a former Scotland secretary presses for federalism, SNP depute leader Keith Brown has told The National.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind spent three years as Margaret Thatcher’s man in Scotland and once made a bid for leadership of the party. Now the former Edinburgh Pentlands MP, who also served under John Major, has called for a new federal UK to save the Union.

In a weekend interview, Rifkind suggested devolution will soon have “had its day” and federalism is the “radical” replacement needed.

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And he told the Herald on Sunday the “sensible thing to do” is use “no more than a year or 18 months” to prepare for a federal option in a referendum he says should not happen, stating: “If there is a referendum, then that’s the choice you offer – Scots decide either they want to break up the Union and separate from England and Wales or have a federal Union, which would be a lot better than devolution. It meets the cultural, social and political aspirations that many people have and, if that is now the choice, we can live with that.

“It would be far more likely that a federal Unionist viewpoint would win if that was on the ballot paper, rather than simply saying: do we continue with the status quo or go for independence?”

Responding to Rifkind, Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie told this newspaper: “We’ve heard this argument about federalism so many times, but it’s never held to the same scrutiny on detail as the independence movement is. It never comes with workable solutions or a commitment to reform the UK itself, and without that it’s a complete non-starter.

“The Tories have called devolution a disaster, and we cannot take seriously any suggestion that they’re about to introduce federalism. The choice for Scotland is between staying in an undemocratic and insular Brexit Britain, or joining the international community as an independent country with our own seat at the European table.”

And Brown said: “You know the Tories are in deep panic mode when they start trotting out this mythical nonsense.

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“For years they have had the power and opportunity to make federalism happen yet time and again their grand promises have vanished as soon as they have served their purpose.

“Despite the feigned protests of the Scottish Tories, we know Boris Johnson thinks devolution has been a disaster. His utter contempt for Scotland’s Parliament confirms he can’t be trusted.

“His Tory Government is currently engaged in the biggest power grab on the Scottish Parliament of the devolved era so Malcolm Rifkind is deluded if he thinks he can convince Johnson to do the opposite.”

In a pre-recorded speech to the Scottish Conservative conference, the Prime Minister attempted to row back on telling English Tory MPs that devolution in Scotland has been a “disaster”, saying this described the SNP’s handling of the settlement and adding: “Just because I criticise devolved performance, does not mean I want to end or undermine devolution.”

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He went on: “Devolution should not be used by politicians as a wall to break an area of the UK away from the rest, it should be used as a step, to pass power down to local communities and businesses to make their lives better.”

Recent polling put support for Yes at a record high. but Rifkind said there is “no revolutionary air”, stating: “Not a single person answering the pollster thinks this is a decision they are taking now on the future of their country. What they are expressing is a feeling which has changed – which may or may not be temporary or permanent, it’s far too early to know – partly because they don’t like Boris Johnson.”

But Brown said: “Support for independence is on the rise and the people of Scotland will dismiss yet more hollow promises for what they are – worthless.

“The only way to protect Scotland’s interests is to become an independent country and the people of Scotland will have that choice.”