Foreign secretary Liz Truss, frontrunner in the Conservative leadership race, has unequivocally ruled out a second Scottish independence referendum, arguing that the 2014 vote was a “once in a generation” occurrence.
Truss, who spent part of her childhood in Scotland, told Conservative party members on Tuesday that she considered herself to be “a child of the union”, as she pledged to deliver policies for the whole of the UK and “work very closely” with Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross to take on the Scottish National party administration.
“At the time of the 2014 referendum, it was agreed by the SNP that it was a once-in-a-generation referendum,” she said speaking at hustings held in Perth in central Scotland. “What she [first minister Nicola Sturgeon] should do, rather than agitating for another referendum, is deal with the very real issues in Scotland.”
During the final months of Boris Johnson’s tenure in Number 10, the relationship between the Scottish wing of the Conservative party and the Westminster administration became strained, with several of its members of the Scottish parliament calling on the prime minister to resign in light of the “partygate” revelations.
Under her government, the union would go from “strength to strength to strength”, Truss said, as she pledged to renew Trident, the UK’s nuclear weapons system, and increase the number of defence contracts issued to Scottish companies.
Meanwhile, former chancellor Rishi Sunak also outlined his opposition to a second referendum. “We live in a union which is of course there by consent and by democracy and I accept that,” he said.” But I just don’t think that anybody thinks that now or any time in the near future is remotely the time to focus on this.”
Sunak said he would not shy away from calling out the SNP’s record on matters such as drug and alcohol abuse, as he pledged to end the “devolve-and-forget mentality” in Whitehall.
Both candidates faced pressure to outline their plans to support households in the face of spiralling energy bills.
Earlier this week, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer argued that the energy price cap that limits the rates suppliers can charge for default tariffs, should be frozen below £2,000 until spring 2023 as part of the party’s £28.9bn energy plan.
Questioned whether he would rule out such proposals, Sunak replied: “Yes. I don’t think that is the right approach.” The former chancellor pointed to proposals he introduced earlier in the year, which include a £400 discount on energy bills, and reiterated his pledge to cut VAT on domestic fuel bills.
When asked to clarify her response to the growing calls to freeze the cap, Truss said it was not right to “simply throw money at the problems” without tackling the root causes, noting that reducing taxes would be one method to support households, alongside addressing domestic supply issues by taking advantage of the “fantastic” oil and gas industry in Scotland.
The foreign secretary also faced criticism late on Tuesday after the Guardian newspaper reported on leaked recordings that allegedly detailed Truss arguing that British workers needed “more graft”.
Challenged on her remarks, she replied: “I don’t know what you’re quoting there but what we need in this country is more productivity and we need more economic growth.”