Tory leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt has said he is the prime minister Nicola Sturgeon “least wants” because of his commitment to keeping Scotland in the UK.
The Foreign Secretary visited Peterhead in Aberdeenshire on Sunday, where he spoke to fishing industry leaders at the port and outlined his priorities if he is elected the UK’s new leader.
He said: “I’m the prime minister Nicola Sturgeon least wants, and for a very simple reason – I believe in the Union with every fibre of my being and I will never allow the Union to be broken up as prime minister.
“Unlike Nicola Sturgeon, I’m on the side of the Scottish people who say they don’t want another divisive referendum, they want their SNP government to focus on health and education and things that matter to ordinary Scottish families, not things that divide them.
“An independence referendum is not what the people of Scotland want and I listen to the people of Scotland.”
Mr Hunt added: “Talking to the skipper of the ship I’ve just been round – he wants to get on and grow his business and not be sucked back into all that bitter division.
“I think it’s time that Nicola Sturgeon did what the people of Scotland want, which is to focus on health and education and all the things she was elected to deliver.”
Mr Hunt toured the Westro, a fishing boat owned and skippered by James West, 42, who told the MP he had had enough of referendums.
As the pair ate haddock and chips together, Mr Hunt asked the captain what he wanted in a prime minister and Mr West replied “someone who’ll just get on with it”.
Mr Hunt later paid a visit to his 99-year-old great aunt Betty.
Asked about a recent poll which suggested a majority of Conservative party members wanted Brexit even if it meant Scotland gaining independence, Mr Hunt replied: “I don’t actually believe that polling.
“Conservative party members I know are absolutely passionate about our precious Union.
“What they are is incredibly frustrated that we have haven’t delivered Brexit, and I think that polling reflects the fact that people are just angry it’s taken so long.”
Asked if he would choose Brexit or the Union, he said: “The Union every time.”
Mr Hunt sipped on a can of Irn Bru – known as Scotland’s other national drink – during his visit, which he described as “very pleasant”.
Asked if he could taste the difference with the new recipe that was recently introduced, he joked: “I’m not a regular Irn Bru drinker and so I’m sure I’d fail a test.”
Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong and Jimmy Buchan, of the Scottish Seafood Association, which represents fish processors, met Mr Hunt for around 20 minutes on Sunday.
Speaking about the fishing industry’s prospects outside the EU and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), Mr Hunt said: “We will be able to negotiate quotas on an annual basis and we’ll get a better deal than under the CFP, because under the CFP we only get to keep 40% of our catch, whereas independent states like Norway get 85%, Iceland gets 95%.
“We can get a better deal for the UK – that’s what’s going to be different.”
He added: “The most important thing for people in Peterhead is to get a deal that means we leave the EU as quickly as possible.
“Send the wrong person to Brussels, there will be no negotiations, no deal and if we end up tripping into a general election, no Brexit.
“And that would be a disaster for the fishing industry, because leaving the EU is the biggest opportunity for the fishing industry in 40 years.”
Mr Buchan said: “He obviously wants to get a deal in place and he’s come here with an open mind and is engaging with us.
“I think it’s brilliant that we’ve got a potential prime minister who’s coming right into the heartland to see things first hand.
“If Mr Johnson wants to come up here he will be treated equally as well. Because this is really important – it’s about getting the right person in that can break this deadlock in Parliament which is paralysing the country.”
Mr Armstrong said: “We have the same message for the two prime ministerial candidates, and that is to make us an independent coastal state.
“Mr Hunt has given us assurances that that will happen. So far the indications are he understands and gets both the opportunities and the challenges.”
SNP depute leader Keith Brown said: “Under any leadership, the Tories support is slumping in Scotland – and after coming fourth in the European election, the party is now set to lose seats at both Holyrood and Westminster.
“While we take nothing for granted, it’s no wonder voters are continuing to put their faith in the SNP – the only party with a way out of the Brexit mess and a vision for a better Scotland.”