Nicola Sturgeon has made clear that she will put disunity under Jeremy Corbyn at the heart of the SNP Scottish parliament campaign next May when she attacked Labour as “unreliable, unelectable and unable to stand up to the Tories”.
In her opening speech to the SNP conference in Aberdeen, the Scottish first minister mocked Corbyn for a lack of credibility as she pointed up his inability to win round his own shadow cabinet.
Sturgeon told the conference: “Whether on the economy or Trident or even the question of whether UK forces should take part in airstrikes, Labour is a party divided and in disarray. In fact the only thing clear about Labour, and it becomes clearer by the day, is this: Labour is unreliable, unelectable and unable to stand up to the Tories. At Westminster there is now only one united, strong, principled opposition to David Cameron and George Osborne. It is the party I am proud to lead, our party, the SNP.”
The first minister opened her speech on Thursday by highlighting the mixed messages from Labour after the shadow chancellor John McDonnell changed tack to oppose George Osborne’s fiscal charter. Most of the 55-strong group of SNP MPs flew up to Aberdeen on an early flight after voting against the fiscal charter in the Commons on Wednesday night.
Sturgeon mocked Corbyn’s tactics on the vote, saying: “Labour initially planned to vote for George Osborne’s austerity charter. It was only SNP pressure that changed their minds, well at least changed some of their minds. In the vote last night Labour divisions were laid bare. And it became crystal clear yet again that the only party with the unity and the conviction to stand strong against austerity – it is our party, the SNP.
“Over these last few weeks it has become glaringly obvious that he [Corbyn] is unable to unite his party on any of the big issues of our day. When he says he opposes Trident he is attacked not just by the Tories but by his own shadow cabinet. Friends, be in no doubt about this. The SNP stands against Trident today, tomorrow and always. When Jeremy Corbyn says he opposes the welfare cap he is opposed not just by Iain Duncan Smith but by his own shadow justice secretary.”
Sturgeon’s attack on Corbyn will be seen as a significant signal of SNP tactics in the runup to the Holyrood elections in May. The SNP is hoping that it will bolster its vote – and pave the way for a third successive win and a second successive overall parliamentary majority – if it can convince Scottish voters that Labour divisions mean Corbyn is incapable of standing up to the Tories at Westminster. The SNP will argue that an even stronger performance in Holyrood will strengthen its hand at Westminster.
The SNP leadership regards continuing central government cuts as a factor that could persuade voters to embrace a second referendum on Scottish independence. But Sturgeon set the brakes on moves towards a second referendum when she said she would only table a demand for a second poll if there was “strong and consistent evidence” of a growth in support for independence.
The first minister told the conference: “I believe with all my heart that Scotland should be an independent country. And I, of course, respect the decision that our country made last year. So let me clear: to propose another referendum in the next parliament, without strong evidence that a significant number of those who voted no have changed their minds, would be wrong and we won’t do that. It would not be respecting the decision that people have made.”
But Sturgeon cited four areas – deeper cuts, renewing Trident, failing to implement in full the referendum “vow” of more powers to parliament and a UK exit from the EU – that would lead to a rise in support for independence. “If there is strong and consistent evidence that people have changed their minds, that independence has become the choice of a clear majority in this country then we have no right to rule out a referendum.”
She said a vote by the UK as a whole to leave the EU in Cameron’s in/out referendum – against the wishes of the people of Scotland – would lead to a breach of Cameron’s commitments during the independence referendum, when the prime minister guaranteed Scotland a place in the UK within the EU.
“If you try to take Scotland out of the EU against our democratic wishes you will be breaching the terms of last year’s vote,” she said in a direct message to Cameron. “In those circumstances you may well find that demand for a second independence referendum is unstoppable.”
This article was written by Nicholas Watt and Libby Brooks, for theguardian.com on Thursday 15th October 2015 14.02 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010