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Leaked memo exposes government fears over rise in support for Scottish independence

Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon welcoming prime minister Boris Johnson outside Bute House in Edinburgh - Credit: PA

A leaked memo has shown that government ministers are becoming increasingly worried about the rise in support for Scottish independence.

An assessment by Tory advisers warned Boris Johnson against continuously blocking Holyrood’s demands for a second referendum on independence.

The document, seen by Bloomberg, was written by Hanbury Strategy and complained of a “vacuum of leadership” within the pro-union movement and urged the prime minister to give Nicola Sturgeon more powers to ward off a break up of the UK.

It came after a poll last week found that almost a third of Scots who voted against independence in 2014 have changed their mind and are either unsure or would vote Yes.

MORE: How Nicola Sturgeon could stop Boris Johnson choosing no-deal Brexit

The document also said that Brexit had changed the political landscape in Scotland.

“Put simply, there are not enough Leave voters to convert to the ‘No’ side to make up for the movement of Remain voters into the ‘Yes’ camp,” it said.

It suggested Westminster work with Holyrood rather than reject advances for a second independence vote, advising ministers to take a three-pronged approach of “new accommodation, new constitutional settlement, and cooperation rather than confrontation​”.

Dubbed “Four Nations, One Country“, the memo also floated the idea of asking the EU to ensure an independent Scotland is not guaranteed membership into the trading bloc.

It spoke of trying to “co-opt the EU into demonstrating that there is no viable pathway to renewed membership”.

It also recommended handing more control over to Scotland, such as allowing the nation to be responsible for immigration policies.

Hanbury Strategy is run by former government advisers Ameet Gill and Paul Stephenson. Stephenson worked with Dominic Cummings on the Vote Leave campaign in 2016 and assisted the Tory Party with its 2019 general election campaign.

The firm has also been awarded thousands of pounds in government contracts, although the memo is not thought to have been commissioned by ministers.

Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has insisted that an SNP majority in next May’s Holyrood elections could give her a mandate to seek Scottish independence.

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