ELECTIONS to the Scottish Parliament can never deliver a mandate for an independence referendum, Alister Jack has suggested.

The Scottish Secretary's claim that Holyrood elections could only deliver mandates for things within Holyrood's powers came during a grilling from MPs on the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster.

The Commons committee hearing opened with Jack and his fellow Scotland Office ministers John Lamont and Malcolm Offord answering questions on Scotland’s route to a second referendum.

It came after the Supreme Court ruled that Holyrood did not have the power to legislate for a vote on the future of the Union without Westminster's consent.

READ MORE: Andrew Tickell: Why the Supreme Court indyref2 judgment won't stop independence

Scottish Secretary Jack was asked if it was possible for Scotland to “secure an independence referendum”.

He responded that it was, but that it would take a “sustained majority and a clear consensus between the [UK and Scottish] governments, between the political parties, across civic society”.

“There would have to be that sustained majority for there to be another referendum,” Jack added.

Jack (below) pointedly refused to outline a legal and democratic route through which Scotland could obtain a second independence vote, suggesting instead that people would “know” when the time was right.

The National:

The top Tory told MPs: “It’s the duck test. If it looks like a duck and it sounds like a duck and it waddles like a duck then it’s probably a duck. People know when they’ve reached that point.

“They knew back then [in 2014] that they’d reached it. We don’t believe we’ve reached it now.”

Asked if a majority of people in Scotland voting in an "electoral contest" for the proposition of independence would "satisfy" him, the Scottish Secretary suggested that votes cast in Scottish Parliament elections could never deliver a mandate for indyref2, or independence itself.

“You can’t have a mandate for something that we now know legally that you don’t have any power over," he said.

“In reinforcing my point, the Scottish Government can no more – although they put it in every manifesto that they want to remove Trident from Faslane – no more have the power to take away our nuclear deterrent than they do to break up our United Kingdom.”

“That’s very clear and the justices agree with me on that,” he added. 

A de facto referendum?

The Scottish Secretary also dismissed the idea that the next General Election could be run as a “de facto” independence vote.

He told MPs that he did not think parties could “cherry pick” specific points from their manifesto and claim that every vote they’d won had been in support of that issue.

“It would only need a handful of people to say they were voting SNP but they weren’t voting for independence to undermine that argument,” Jack said.

READ MORE: Using election as de facto indyref2 'perfectly legitimate', John Curtice says

The Scottish Secretary claimed that the Scottish Government was not respecting the “very precious principles” which underline democracy: “One is losers’ consent, and the other is the adherence of the executive to the rule of law.”

He suggested that the SNP had never consented to their loss after the 2014 referendum, and that they were ignoring the ruling handed down by the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court costs

The Scottish Secretary was further asked by Douglas Ross – the Scottish Tory leader – how much money the UK Government had spent fighting the Supreme Court case which saw holding indyref2 ruled outwith Holyrood’s powers.

Jack told the committee that £71,800 had been spent on the UK Government’s side on the case.

It comes after the Daily Record reported that the Scottish Government had run up a bill of around £130,000 fighting the indyref2 case on its side.