Jim Murphy has accused the SNP of wanting to consign Scotland to years of deepening division over independence, after Nicola Sturgeon accused both Labour and the Tories of clinging to the idea that they are entitled to a Westminster majority instead of embracing the multi-party election that the public wants.
As new polling found that the SNP has extended its lead over his party to 32 points, the Scottish Labour leader warned activists in Glasgow that the SNP’s intentions were clear: “They plan to use this general election to stoke up discontent and division so they can push for a second referendum.”
“It is the nationalists’ clear intention to pursue a second referendum sooner rather than later if they are given the opportunity. They would consign Scotland to years of deepening divisions while the needs and priorities of working class Scots are set aside aside for another day, another year or indeed another generation.”
But Sturgeon earlier accused Westminster parties of “hitting the panic button” and failing to recognise what the public wanted from this general election, as a Guardian/ICM poll confirmed the likelihood of a hung parliament. A TNS Scotland poll released on Monday morning indicated support for the SNP is continuing to build, with the party up two points at 54%, and Labour down two points at 22%, once 29% undecideds were discounted.
Sturgeon said: “Instead of embracing the multiparty election that the public want, Labour and the Tories are clinging to the idea that they are entitled to a majority in Westminster – which every poll indicates isn’t going to happen.
She said: “The reality is that this is the people’s election, and voters do not appear to trust either party with a majority. The SNP is being open and honest about our position, that we will work to keep the Tories out and to keep Labour honest.”
Sturgeon again warned Labour leader Ed Miliband, who has appeared to rule out any form of post-election deal with her party, that “Labour would never be forgiven if they let the Tories back in, in preference to working with the SNP”.
But the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, speaking alongside Jim Murphy in Glasgow, insisted that there would be no cooperation with the SNP. He said: “The reason we say consistently no coalition with the SNP, no deals, no agreements, is because the SNP want something fundamentally different from our manifesto. We want to show, not by setting Scottish nationalism against English nationalism, that if we all work together we can have a stronger and fairer future together and the SNP don’t want that.”
In an interview on Monday, Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite told the Guardian he believes Ed Miliband could work with Nicola Sturgeon after the election.
Earlier on Monday, in a confident interview with Radio 4’s Today programme, the SNP leader rejected claims that she wanted a second independence referendum. She said: “No, I don’t. I want to make sure that that decision is driven by what people in Scotland want.”
But Murphy referred specifically to a YouTube video of the SNP deputy leader, Stewart Hosie, at a hustings last October in which he suggests that if Westminster reneged on its promise of maximum devolution (the SNP’s manifesto pledge of full fiscal responsibility), it would disappoint substantial numbers of those who voted no and thus be “a game-changer for what happens on the road to independence”.
Continuing Murphy’s line of attack, Ed Balls said: “Of course Nicola Sturgeon says it’s not about another referendum. But Stewart Hosie when he’s talking to SNP supporters says the absolute opposite. He’s given the game away. We know the plan is for SNP MPs to demand things that they know Labour would never deliver, like the end of the Barnett formula or the end of UK pensions, and if we won’t sign up to full fiscal autonomy, which we won’t, they will then say ‘They betrayed us, let’s have another referendum’.”
Balls took on SNP claims to be the anti-austerity party. He said: “The SNP is not going to Westminster to fight poverty. They want to go to Westminster to fight for another referendum. And that is why we do face two roads and we’re going to decide in the next 10 days which road to take. Labour’s road, a better plan for an economy that works for working people or the road to another referendum.”
The shadow chancellor also turned his fire on the SNP’s economic policy, telling the audience that criticism from the Institute for Fiscal Studies of the SNP’s manifesto commitments as well as their flagship policy of full fiscal responsibility proved that the party “cannot hide from the facts any longer”.
Referring to the IFS findings published last Tuesday that SNP plans would lead by 2019 to deeper UK spending cuts than under Labour, and that the fiscal gap created by full fiscal responsibility would reach nearly £10bn by 2019-20, Balls said: “The gap between the rhetoric and reality is huge and the SNP cannot hide from the facts any longer. The SNP plans mean longer austerity, bigger cuts, more debt and less money for public services than Labour’s plans. It is not fiscal autonomy but fiscal austerity.”
Nicola Sturgeon was also pressed by Today interviewer James Naughtie as to why anyone should believe – given her commitment to independence – that she had an interest in making Westminster work efficiently. She said: “That’s a very fair question because it’s no secret that I want Scotland to be an independent country. I argued for that in the referendum last year and people in Scotland chose not to become independent at this time.”
Saying that the SNP had a vested interested in better UK politics, she said: “Why we can be trusted is that as long as Westminster decisions affect Scotland it matters to the SNP and to Scotland that those are good decisions.”
This article was written by Libby Brooks Scotland reporter, for theguardian.com on Monday 27th April 2015 18.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010