Nicola Sturgeon has accused the UK government of insulting the electorate by issuing increasingly alarmist claims about the risks of Britain leaving the European Union.
In an interview with the Guardian, Scotland’s first minister called for politicians to make a positive case for remaining in the EU instead of using “fear-based” arguments to convince voters.
“It’s straying into the territory of insulting people’s intelligence,” she said, referring to a Treasury report released on Monday that claims a vote for Brexit would plunge the UK into a year-long recession. “Let’s try and instil a bit of hope and vision and optimism.”
The SNP leader said the tone of the remain campaign, which is being closely coordinated from Downing Street, was reminiscent of the “Project Fear” strategy pursued during the Scottish referendum.
“We’ve heard it all before in Scotland of course. Sometimes you wake up in the morning and it feels like hearing the referendum arguments all over again. You take the Treasury report today, I think most people in Scotland are going ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’.”
While ultimately successful, the approach pursued during the Scottish referendum arguably led to a collapse in support for the pro-union Labour party, as voters saw it as too closely identified with the Westminster establishment making the case for the status quo.
Sturgeon was speaking during a visit to London to meet her party’s MPs and the new Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan. The trip was planned before stories emerged about her deputy, Stewart Hosie, who is standing down following revelations of an affair with a journalist, Serena Cowdy.
Sturgeon said: “The issue with Stewart Hosie is a private matter. Many people from many different walks of life have marriages that break up and those are deeply personal, deeply painful, but ultimately private matters … He’s decided to put his health and his family and his constituency first. It’s a credit to him that he’s taken that decision.”
Cowdy was reportedly also pursuing a relationship with another SNP MP, Angus MacNeil, and questions have been raised about his expenses claims for overnight hotel stays during that period. Sturgeon said she had seen no evidence to suggest a misuse of parliamentary expenses.
“Clearly any issues about breaching of expenses rules should be properly investigated. I understand that there have been references made to the parliamentary authorities and it will be for them to decide. But I’ve not seen any evidence of any breach of any rules of parliamentary expense and I think it’s very important to stress that,” she said.
Asked whether she was concerned that the SNP might no longer be seen as separate from the historical sleaze associated with Westminster politics – given that these revelations follow continuing police investigations into alleged financial impropriety by two former SNP MPs, Michelle Thomson and Natalie McGarry – Sturgeon responded that none of the individuals in question had been “proven to do anything wrong”.
She said: “Both of them [McGarry and Thomson] have chosen to step aside from the SNP while there are investigations ongoing. That’s the right thing to do.
“What I’m proud of is that the SNP right now is providing the only effective opposition to the Tories in Westminster. On a whole range of issues it has been the SNP – while Labour is tearing itself apart – that’s been standing up against David Cameron and his government, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”
Sturgeon said Labour remained in “terminal decline” in Scotland, and the Conservatives – who leapfrogged Labour to take second place in recent Holyrood elections – remained far behind the SNP.
“The Tories, by their standards, had a good night at the Scottish parliament elections. But they got 22% of the vote, they got half the number of seats than the SNP has at the Scottish parliament.”
She suggested the Scottish Conservatives’ success was due to a combination of their leader Ruth Davidson’s forceful personality and a fractured Labour party at Westminster.
“The Tories’ saving grace at the moment is always going to be that Labour is such a shambles,” she said. “The Tories are quite rightly getting plaudits for doing that [winning second place] but it’s more a feature of Labour’s collapse.”
Asked whether Jeremy Corbyn had boosted Labour’s popularity, in Scotland, Sturgeon laughed: “Far from there being a Corbyn bounce in Scotland … Labour’s support in Scotland depends on their ability to be electable. If they are divided and unelectable, what’s the point?”
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