Nicola Sturgeon has come under further pressure to rule out a second independence referendum after Scottish Labour mounted a last-ditch effort to prevent a rout in next week’s general election.
The Scottish National party leader accused Labour of a “desperate last throw of the dice” after being challenged at Holyrood to repeat her pledge last year that a referendum was a “once in a lifetime opportunity”, after SNP election candidates suggested it remained a live issue after the election.
After a spate of damaging polls put the SNP on a record lead, Labour has latched on to comments from candidates such as Natalie McGarry, standing for the SNP in Glasgow East, who said that “we’ve got to wait to see the result of this election” before deciding on a second poll.
Jim Sillars, the former SNP deputy leader with a strong following among older party members, has told the Daily Telegraph he believed a referendum would be on “line one” of the party’s manifesto for the 2016 Holyrood elections, before being gently slapped down by Sturgeon.
In a concerted effort to salvage seats by squeezing wavering Tory and Liberal Democrat supporters into backing Labour at the election, Scottish Labour’s final campaign poster featured a road sign offering voters the choice between “Labour’s fairer economy” and “another SNP referendum”.
Pressed several times by Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, to state emphatically that no new referendum would be called in the next parliament, Sturgeon accused of “desperate scaremongering”. The first minister insisted the SNP’s only objective at the election was to strengthen Scottish influence at Westminster. The “great heroes of the labour movement must be turning in their graves right now” at Labour’s negativity, Sturgeon said.
“Let me make this quite clear: I have the greatest respect for Jim Sillars, but the clue is in the title ‘former deputy leader of the SNP’,” she said. “I am the current leader of the SNP, so let me say this clearly once again: this election is not about independence or a referendum; it is about making Scotland’s voice heard and then using that strong voice at Westminster to stand up for progressive politics and to argue for an end to austerity, protection for our public services and the investment in our economy that we need to get people into jobs.”
Dugdale retorted that the latest Scottish government data raised significant questions about the SNP’s record in government, showing that literacy rates for children had declined and no progress had been made in improving exam passes for the poorest pupils.
With the Scottish Lib Dems also relying heavily on Tory and Labour tactical voters to hold off the SNP in its key seats, Willie Rennie, the Scottish Lib Dem leader, pressed Sturgeon on whether the SNP was following the Quebec “neverendum” model, where the Canadian province had two independence polls within 15 years.
“We are not even asking her to rule it out for a lifetime – just rule it out for the next session. That is what we are asking for. Why can she not do that?” he asked.
Sturgeon implied that a decision on a second poll would need a change in the political or economic situation, which could equally force the SNP to press for greater fiscal powers short of full independence.
This article was written by Severin Carrell Scotland correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 30th April 2015 16.14 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010