Alex Salmond has said Scots will be voting in the general election on the “right of the Scottish Parliament” to hold a second referendum – just days after his successor Nicola Sturgeon claimed the 8 June vote is not about independence.
The former First Minister indicated Ms Sturgeon has delayed her plans for a second referendum to “get another victory” that would reinforce her mandate to hold a second vote on leaving the UK.
Ms Sturgeon this week insisted that any drop in SNP support in June would have no impact on her mandate for another referendum, “which was secured in last year’s Holyrood election”.
Mr Salmond told his LBC radio phone-in show that Scots voting in the election will be clear about the SNP’s path to next referendum. “They will know that they are voting to support the right of the Parliament to decide on the holding of the Scottish referendum,” Mr Salmond said.
READ MORE: Sturgeon urged to set out indyref2 plan before election
He added: “The path is that the Parliament should have the right to hold a referendum through the section 30 order.”
The First Minister announced this week that she would delay setting out her plans for a second referendum until after the election.
Asked whether this is because Ms Sturgeon is fearful of having the issue at the heart of the SNP election campaign, Mr Salmond said: “No, she’s looking to get another election victory which will indicate and support the right of the Parliament to decide these things.”
The Scottish Government’s consultation on a second referendum finished in January and ministers have yet to respond to it. Mr Salmond added: “We’re during an election campaign where people are going to decide on a whole range of things, but one of the things they’re going to decide is whether to back our Parliament’s right to hold a referendum.”
Ms Sturgeon faced claims she is attempting to avoid the independence issue amid falling support for a Yes vote when she said voting SNP in the general election was about backing “strong voices against the Conservatives”.
Speaking at the STUC in Aviemore on Monday, she said: “This election won’t decide whether or not Scotland becomes independent. We got a mandate for the referendum in the [Holyrood] election last year.”
The Scottish Parliament last month backed a second referendum following the Brexit vote after the SNP combined with the pro-independence Greens to vote it through. But power over a referendum lies at Westminster and Prime Minister Theresa May has ruled it out, insisting “now is not the time” as Brexit negotiations take place.
Conservative Edinburgh South candidate Miles Briggs said: “Mr Salmond has let the cat out of the bag. The SNP’s objective in this election is to manufacture a case for independence – just as they have tried to do with Brexit.
“Nobody takes Nicola Sturgeon’s claim otherwise seriously – not even Alex Salmond.”
Scottish Labour general election campaign manager James Kelly said: “Alex Salmond has let the cat out of the bag.
“At every election, Nicola Sturgeon tries to pretend it isn’t a vote about the SNP’s plans for a divisive second independence referendum.
“But she can’t stop Alex Salmond blundering in, and here he is admitting the SNP wants to use this election to pursue another referendum the country does not want or need.
“In seats across Scotland it is only Labour that can stop the SNP, and voters can send Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond a message that together we’re stronger by voting Labour.”
Ms Sturgeon yesterday dismissed opposition claims that she is avoiding talking about independence in the election campaign.
“My opponents are ridiculous,” the First Minister said during a campaign visit to Stirling.
“They go from accusing me of talking about independence too much to accusing me of not talking about it enough.
“The issue at this election campaign is quite clear – how do we make sure we have strong voices arguing Scotland’s corner at Westminster and also backing our Scottish Parliament.
“On independence, the mandate that we sought and won last year in the Scottish election is there, the Scottish Parliament has now voted to back that mandate, so the question in this election is do we allow the Tories to determine who chooses Scotland’s future or do we send a clear message that it should be our Parliament and the people of Scotland who determine Scotland’s future?”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson yesterday stepped up the pressure on Ms Sturgeon to set out her plans for a referendum so that voters can make a judgment on the proposals at the election.
A spokesman for the First Minister confirmed this week this will be delayed until after 8 June.
Ms Sturgeon has promised to set out the “next steps” she intends to take in order to hold an independence poll between autumn next year and spring 2019.
Originally, Ms Sturgeon indicated she would reveal her plan after the Easter break.
It then emerged that she would wait until after the 4 May local election.
Ms Davidson said: “The First Minister could not have been clearer last month – she told the people of Scotland she would set out her next steps on her unwanted referendum plan after Easter and keep us all informed.
“Yet now that a general election has been called she has gone back on her word.
“The reason is obvious: as always with the SNP, they desperately try to play down independence in an election campaign because they know it’s unpopular.”