MICHAEL Gove has refused to say whether the UK Government would agree or not to a second independence referendum if the SNP win the May elections.

In a briefing with journalists on a visit to Glasgow this morning the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster repeatedly declined to give what the response would be to Nicola Sturgeon's party triumphing at the spring poll.

The First Minister wants to hold indyref2 in the early part of the next Holyrood session if her party wins the election.

She hopes to get an agreement with Boris Johnson to hold a new vote, but failing that she would press ahead with legislation for the Scottish Government to hold one via Holyrood legislation.

"The most important thing, we think, is for all politicians to concentrate on Covid recovery at the moment," said Gove, who is the Cabinet Office minister.

"The intention as I understand it of the Scottish Government is to bring forward an independence referendum. We think that is a distraction from the efforts all of us have to engage in in order to improve people's lives."

During the briefing he was asked by The National if his government would agree to a second independence referendum if the SNP win in May. He again replied that "the most important thing at the moment is to concentrate on our health and economic recovery" with "talk of an independence referendum a momentous distraction from that".

He added that when he talked to Scots, people told him that their priorities were supporting the NHS, strengthening the economy and improving education, particularly for children who have missed out on face-to-face teaching in the classroom during the Covid lockdowns.

"People are far more interested in what is happening in their children's schools than they are on what is happening on potential legislation for potential referendum," he added.

Pressed by The National on whether if Scots voted for a referendum should they not have one, he replied: "We'll see what happens in the Scottish election but at the moment I can certainly tell you that everyone can see this is that the principle focus of people in Scotland as in the rest of the United Kingdom, across this family of nations, every family is focussing on making sure we can build back better."

Gove's approach echoes Johnson's message given yesterday to the Scottish Conservative spring conference where he stopped short of ruling out a second independence referendum if the SNP win a majority on May 6. 

It is a marked change since the beginning of the year when the PM suggested there should not be a new independence until 2055 and suggests a softening of their stance in the lead up to polling day.

Some commentators believe the hardline stance was counter productive to the pro-Union side and was helping to drive up support for independence.

During the briefing Gove has said every vote for the Tories will "cut the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon down to size", adding he hopes Douglas Ross will be the next First Minister.

He was speaking to reporters via Zoom during a visit to Glasgow following the announcement of 500 jobs being created in the city through a Cabinet Office expansion and a further 500 jobs at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office at East Kilbride.

Currently, the SNP enjoy a near insurmountable lead in the polls, with some suggesting they could take a majority, bolstering the case that Scots want a second independence referendum.

Conversely, the Tories look set to stay in second place, with 20% support in both the constituency and list vote in a recent Savanta ComRes poll for The Scotsman, while support for the SNP was at 55% and 42% respectively.

Gove added: "It's up to the Scottish people to decide who the next First Minister is, I hope it will be Douglas Ross.

"The Scottish Conservatives are the only party fighting an unapologetically pro-UK campaign focused on jobs and economic recovery.

"We know that every vote for the Scottish Conservatives is a vote to cut the SNP and cut Nicola Sturgeon down to size and that seems to me to be the wisest thing to do."

Gove added there are a number of issues that should be the focus of the May 6 election other than independence, adding: "I want to look forward, but inevitably people in this election campaign will reflect on the Scottish Government's record, and they will make their own judgement on that.

"What I want to do is to make sure we're in the strongest position possible, whoever the next First Minister is, to concentrate on those areas where we need to make up lost ground: education, waiting lists in our NHS and the economic performance of Scotland and the whole UK."