IT would be “impossible” for a new Better Together campaign to fight indyref2 if the Tories’ “muscular Unionism” wins out, one of the UK’s foremost constitution experts has said.

Professor Ciaran Martin, who was the constitution director at the Cabinet Office from 2011 and helped to forge the Edinburgh Agreement, said the differing ideas for the UK on the No side of the argument were too disparate to allow for a cohesive campaign.

He was speaking on the Scotsman’s “The Steamie” when he made the comments.

Martin, now a professor at the University of Oxford, told the podcast that the UK’s approach to devolution would be a key factor in a second independence vote.

He said: “In terms of devolution, if you do anything different it’s going to become a football match … I do think that is the fundamental issue.

“Does devolution actually command the support of the Conservatives? A lot of people are deeply suspicious, and I think their suspicions are entirely justified.”

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Martin added: “Part of the purpose of devolution was to protect Scotland from the Conservatives, for whom they were not voting.

“Do the Conservatives accept that or not?”

At the end of 2020, the Prime Minister reportedly told a group of Tory MPs that devolution had been a “disaster”.

Although he denied this at the time, saying he was referring to SNP governance, his former chief advisor Dominic Cummings later told The National that Boris Johnson would like to see the constitutional arrangement reversed.

The National:

Martin told the podcast that he thought the Tory government “basically hates” devolution.

The professor of practice in the management of public organisations, who also dismissed “once-in-a-generation” claims about a second independence vote as nothing but a political slogan, said he would look to Wales to learn how to repair the broken devolution systems.

Martin said: “The situation in Wales has a role to play. If I was advising the Government now, the UK Government, on its shoring up the Union strategy, I would be looking at Wales.

“This is a profoundly Unionist Labour administration, it’s pro-devolution but it’s profoundly Unionist.

“When you have [First Minister] Mark Drakeford saying ‘this Government doesn’t understand devolution, it’s not comfortable with it, it basically hates it’. A: I think he’s right. And B: If you can’t make devolution work in Wales, the signal there in Scotland is terrible.”

Last month, Drakeford said Wales’s future would be “best served by having strong devolution”.

The National: Mark Drakeford

He called for a hard reset to create a “strong and revitalised” Union, adding: “The need for change is urgent, the Union has never been this fragile.

“Too often we see the UK Government act in an aggressively unilateral way, claiming to act on behalf of the whole UK, but without regard for the status of the nations and the democratic mandates of their government.”

Drakeford’s calls, coming from an avowed Unionist, were given more credence in the UK media than similar calls from the SNP as the Union’s problems could not be painted as a grievance of “Scottish separatists”.

Speaking to the Scotsman, Martin went on: “One of the things I think is underpriced in all of this is, it’s very easy to mock and criticise the UK Government for getting Scotland wrong of course, but it doesn’t have, and I’m not criticising the SNP for this, the SNP is a pro-independence party and it makes no secret of that, but it doesn’t have a good-faith partner in making the UK work, but it does in Cardiff.

“[Welsh Labour] may be a political opponent, but it’s a Unionist party, and if they can’t make it work with them, where can they make it work?

“I think that’s why … if the Conservatives, if the muscular Unionist wing of the Conservatives wins out then a Better Together campaign is impossible, because they want two different versions of a No vote.”

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While the Tories want a United Kingdom under their rule, Labour and the LibDems have touted a more federal approach with stronger devolved administrations. In a previous report, Martin dismissed such ideas as near impossible.

Speaking yesterday, he said: “If however there is a conversation about a better working devolution settlement where you can show in Wales that it works then you might be on to something.

“I have to say I don’t think the omens for that look all that good.”

Nicola Sturgeon affirmed her commitment to holding a second referendum “within this session of Parliament” after her party’s election win in May.

However, she added: “It is also important that I exercise that mandate with responsibility and humility, and only when the crisis of Covid has passed.”