Tory leadership contenders vow to 'take on Nicola Sturgeon' as they rule out Scottish IndyRef2

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss said they would take on SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and try to see off the threat of independence, reports ITV News Scotland Reporter Louise Scott from Perth

Conservative Party leadership contenders Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have said they "will take on Nicola Sturgeon" as they emphatically ruled out a second Scottish independence referendum.

Mr Sunak said he could not “imagine the circumstances” in which he would allow a second Scottish independence referendum if he becomes prime minister.

Pressed on whether he would rule out the referendum or allow it, Mr Sunak told the Tory leadership hustings in Perth, Scotland: “I can’t imagine the circumstances in which I would.

“We live in a union which is of course there by consent and by democracy and I accept that, 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.”

In an interview with STV, Mr Sunak said he would “take on” the Scottish First Minister rather than ignore her, if he becomes the next prime minister, adding “there is lots for the SNP to answer about their record” when asked how he will win over voters for the party.

Meanwhile, Ms Truss told a crowd in Scotland she will “not allow” another referendum on Scottish independence, saying the 2014 vote was “once in a generation”.

Scottish Conservative party leader Douglas Ross (centre) and Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack (right) at the hustings. Credit: PA

Ms Truss’ assertion was met with applause from the crowd at Perth Concert Hall.

“At the time of the 2014 referendum, it was agreed by the SNP that it was a once-in-a-generation referendum,” she said.

“I believe in politicians keeping their promises, and Nicola Sturgeon should keep her promise.

Protesters gather outside Perth Concert Hall. Credit: PA

“What she should do, rather than agitating for another referendum, is dealing with the very real issues in Scotland.”

Speaking in Perth, the foreign secretary, who was born in Paisley and used to have a "strong Scottish accent" said: “I consider myself a child of the union and to me we’re not just neighbours, we’re family.

“I will never ever let our family be split up.”

She added: “I will make sure that, now and forever, our fantastic union goes from strength to strength to strength.”

It comes as a new poll revealed that a quarter of Scots would be more likely to support Scottish independence regardless of who becomes the next prime minister.

Mr Sunak said the cost-of-living crisis should be the focus of both the devolved and Westminster governments as he ruled out an energy cap freeze.

Liz Truss with her supporters as she arrives for the hustings. Credit: PA

Asked if he would rule out the proposals by the Labour Party, Mr Sunak said: “Yes I don’t think that is the right approach.”

Asked what he would do to help businesses with energy costs, Mr Sunak added that things he had done as chancellor, including a cut to business rates, were already “making a difference”.

Ms Truss refused to say what support other than pausing the green energy levy she would offer people to limit the impact of energy bill rises, saying she did not want to pre-empt a budget given by a chancellor she would appoint.

Ms Truss and Mr Sunak have faced calls in recent days to take urgent action to tackle the cost of living crisis gripping households, even as Downing Street ruled out once again any co-ordination between Boris Johnson and his two would-be successors to offer more immediate solutions to the issue.

The candidates are under increasing pressure to introduce emergency measures, as official figures revealed workers have been hit by a record pay slump with wages lagging behind inflation.

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Ms Truss said she would appoint the former chancellor as a cabinet minister if she wins the Tory leadership race saying it was "important that we unite the Conservative Party".

The foreign secretary is the favourite to be handed the keys to Downing Street on September 5. In a boost to her campaign, almost a dozen whips pledged their support on Tuesday, despite vowing to stay neutral.