Division within Britain helps countries like Russia and China, UK security minister Tom Tugendhat has said as he intimated the push for Scottish independence could damage the country’s safety.
The minister was speaking at a fringe event at the Scottish Tory conference in Glasgow on Friday hosted by the group Conservative Friends of the Union.
Mr Tugendhat attacked the SNP and independence supporters, taking a swipe at the arrest of Nicola Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell in the probe into the party’s finances and the subsequent search of their home.
“They look around and they see countries like Russia and they say ‘well, it’s not much of a threat to us’, they see countries like China and they say ‘well, maybe we can do a deal with them’.
“They don’t see what the real threat is.
“The real threat is that countries like that are looking for our disunity and our division, they’re looking for us to tear each other apart.
“They’re looking to make us not Great Britain, but divided Britain and they’re looking to make us not a great people, but a little people who are so busy squabbling amongst ourselves that we don’t focus on the real duty we have, which is to protect the institutions and the systems built up around the world, keeping people far away from this country free.”
The warning came as fellow UK Government minister Andrew Bowie warned Tory members against complacency caused by the chaos engulfing the SNP.
Mr Murrell was arrested and subsequently released without charge pending further investigation, while the same fate befell then party treasurer Colin Beattie as a police probe into the SNP’s finances continues.
The nuclear energy minister said the party could not repeat the same mistakes as the early 2010s, which saw an SNP majority returned at Holyrood and the agreement to hold a referendum on independence.
“We cannot be complacent about Scotland’s place in our United Kingdom or the battle that we have on our hands every single day to make the case for Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom, the greatest union – economic, military, political and social union -that this world has ever seen,” he said.
MP Mhairi Black, the SNP’s deputy Westminster leader, said: “The Tories have no mandate in Scotland.
“They are in no position to lecture people in Scotland on support for independence when they’ve trashed the UK economy, made millions of Scots poorer through a Tory cost-of-living crisis, imposed a devastating hard Brexit, attacked devolution, and hacked away at the NHS and public services through 13 years of Westminster austerity cuts.
“The SNP is the only party offering a real alternative to the Tories. Voting SNP is the best way to beat the Tories in Scotland at the next election – and the only way to get rid of Westminster Tory governments for good with independence.”