THE familiar refrain of “now is not the time” when it comes to indyref2 has been an extension of “Project Fear”, according to a new analysis.

The tactic used by Tory leaders to reject calls for another referendum has been employed in the knowledge that an outright denial would only “fuel support” for Scottish nationalism, researchers say.

The issue has been analysed by Monika Brusenbauch Meislova, of the department of international relations and European studies at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic for a paper published in the journal British Politics.

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She said the earliest example of the use of the message found during her research dated back to March 3, 2017, when Theresa May argued that ongoing negotiations with the European Union over Brexit should be a priority.

At the time, May said: “We should be working together to get that right deal for Scotland and that right deal for the UK. That’s my job as prime minister and so far, that reason to the SNP I say ‘now is not the time’.”

The message has also been used repeatedly by Boris Johnson – for example, in July this year, when he responded to Nicola Sturgeon’s plans for another referendum in a letter stating: “As our country faces unprecedented challenges at home and abroad, I cannot agree that now is the time to return to a question which was clearly answered by the people of Scotland in 2014.”

Meislova told the Sunday National: “The narrative that closely built upon the Project Fear was the narrative of repeated divisions, built around the topic of threat.

“Both prime ministers told cautionary tales of what would again happen if the calls for a second referendum were now successful.

“The impact of these envisioned worst-case scenarios relied on references to the threat of the new – and repeated disruptive divisions that would again be inevitably wrought by the prospective referendum.

“Yet, neither prime minister explained the repeated divisions in any detail, staying on a high level of abstractness.

“Crucially, the imagery employed here evoked a picture of a second independence referendum as a terrible, disconcerting threat to protect against.”

When it comes to how successful this “delay discourse” has been, Meislova said it has been – in the sense that a second independence referendum has not yet been held and helped gain some level of control over a “difficult rhetorical situation”.

“Its employment was convenient for the prime ministers, as it helped them deal with a delicate dilemma and keep the contested issue largely off the agenda, whilst simultaneously allowing multiple perspectives to co-exist,” she said.

Both May and Johnson have used the ‘now is not the time’ tactic to ward off calls for a second independence referendum

“If the prime ministers were principally against the Scottish referendum as an outlet for public consent, they would be accused of undemocratically denying the right of the Scottish people to self-determination.

“Indeed, an outright denial of a referendum would fuel Scottish nationalism and probably prompt even more support for independence.

“If, on the other hand, the PMs were to concede and allow the referendum, they would be accused of giving up on the country’s territorial integrity too easily.“

However, Meislova also pointed out it also led to criticism of both prime ministers in terms of their approaches to Scottish independence.

“Both May and Johnson were able to get away with this ‘holding position’ for the whole tenure of their premierships.

“It remains to be seen whether their successor will follow their example,” she said.

“If so, the new prime minister [will] keep adopting this position until it remains convenient for him or her.

“Much will also naturally depend on the UK Supreme Court decision regarding the Scottish Government’s intention to run another referendum in 2023.”