DOWNING Street rejected Nicola Sturgeon's conference call for Boris Johnson to agree a second independence referendum before she had even finished delivering her closing address.

The First Minister made the appeal to the UK Government during her speech on the final day of a virtual SNP conference, but the Prime Minister’s official spokesman dismissed the message before she had finished speaking.

In a speech which was pitched at firing up SNP members the First Minister and SNP leader reiterated her pledge to hold a “legal referendum” by the end of 2023 on the condition the coronavirus crisis had passed.

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She said her approach to government and politics had changed in the light of the pandemic and the challenges faced, and was now “as far as possible, co-operation not confrontation".

While the First Minister was speaking, a briefing for journalists in Downing Street was told by Johnson’s spokesman that the focus of all governments in the UK should be on Covid recovery and “now is simply not the time” to consider a referendum.

The spokesman said: “We’ve said this many times before, Ministers and officials across the UK Government departments are focusing on tackling the Covid 19 pandemic and supporting the economic recovery.

“Scottish people have been clear they want to see the UK Government and devolved governments working together to defeat pandemic, that’s our priority.

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“Last week we announced further investment in health and social care across the UK, including £1.1bn to Scotland by 2025, and we’ll continue to work closely with our Scottish counterparts.”

Downing Street also refused to back accept the idea of a referendum “in principle” as Michael Gove [below] and Scottish Secretary Alister Jack have both recently done. Mr Jack said a vote could be held if support for staging a referendum was consistently running at 60%.

The official said: “We’ve never set a position on that. We haven’t said any sort of target. Our view, as set out ,is that now is simply not the time to be dealing with this.

The National:

“The public are looking to governments and leaders across the UK to focus on dealing with this ongoing pandemic and recovering the economy.”

“So it is in that spirit of co-operation that I hope the Scottish and UK governments can reach agreement – as we did in 2014 – to allow the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland to be heard and respected.

"But, this much is clear. Democracy must – and will – prevail.”

However she also warned Johnson’s government, saying the result at the May elections were “an unarguable mandate to implement the manifesto we put before the country.

"And that is what we intend to do. It is called democracy.”

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She went on: “The United Kingdom is after all a voluntary union of nations.
"Until recently no-one seriously challenged the right of the people in Scotland to choose whether or not they wished to become independent,” she said.

"Frankly it is not up to a Westminster government which has just six MPs in Scotland to decide our future without the consent of the people who live here.”

Neale Hanvey, the Alba MP, responded to the First Minister's speech and Downing Street's dismissal of her request for an agreed second independence referendum

“It is hardly surprising that Downing Street have reacted swiftly to reject Nicola Sturgeon’s call for a referendum citing Covid as the reason when the First Minister has herself refused to countenance one until the pandemic is over," said Hanvey whose own party conference in Greenock ended yesterday with a speech by former first minister Alex Salmond, who now leads Alba.

"Far from being the reason for blocking a referendum, recovery from Covid is the very reason why we need independence and the full powers to manage our recovery.

“This current Prime Minister doesn’t care about the democratic will of the Scottish people.

"In Dickensian manner he is set to cut Universal Credit and working tax credit, driving hundreds of thousands of families further into poverty.  

"It is time for the First Minister to stop asking ‘Please Sir can I have some more’ and it is time to start campaigning for independence as the immediate priority it is."

He added: “Nicola’s assertion that ‘Democracy must and will prevail’ has been true since the day and the hour the SNP achieved a clear mandate in 2016. 

"Implementing that mandate and asserting the will of the people of Scotland is not only true it is now urgent and overwhelming in the face of the most right wing tax and cut Tory Government since Thatcher.

“If Boris Johnson will not bend to the will of the First Minister then he must bend to the will of the Scottish people. 

"To do that we need a united approach to break the log jam and to force Westminster’s hand through the convening of an Independence Convention of all Scotland’s Elected representatives, MSPs, MPs and Councillors with the determination to face down Westminster.”