Nicola Sturgeon has warned a vote to leave the EU would leave Scotland at risk from what would become the most right-wing UK Conservative government in modern times.
The First Minister made the dramatic claim today as she steps up her involvement in the campaign for a Remain vote.
With opinion polls suggesting that the UK will vote for Brexit on 23 June, Ms Sturgeon’s remarks signalled a change of tone from her previous criticism of the Remain campaign for being too negative.
Instead of focussing on the positive arguments for European Union membership, the SNP leader claimed Brexit would leave the UK at the mercy of the Conservative right which would attempt to capitalise on a Leave vote.
She branded the campaign for Britain to exit the EU, which has been led by figures such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, as being “a bid for a right-wing Tory takeover of the reins of power in the UK”.
Ms Sturgeon’s comments were immediately attacked by the Leave campaign as “Project McFear”. Urging people across Scotland to back a vote to Remain, the First Minister said: “The people leading the case for a vote to leave the EU are on the right of the Conservative Party and will take an ‘out’ vote as their signal to make their power grab complete.
“Make no mistake – a Leave win would be a victory for politicians who actually believe George Osborne and David Cameron are moderates, and it would leave Scotland at their mercy.
“Outside the EU but within the UK, with most economic power still concentrated at Westminster, Scotland would be left vulnerable to the most right-wing Tory government in modern history.
“And if we leave Europe, they will take it as a green light to scrap workers’ rights and employment protection, slash public spending as part of their ideologically driven austerity obsession – and would target Scotland for extra cuts.
“There should be no doubt in people’s minds – if Leave wins then Scottish workers and family budgets will be in the firing line.”
Tom Harris, director of Scottish Vote Leave, said Ms Sturgeon’s comments were “disappointing”.
“With less than a week to go, here comes Project McFear from the First Minister. So much for Nicola’s promise of a positive message. The First Minister is now engaged in a desperate bid to scare Scottish voters to distract from the failing message of the Remain campaign.
“Just six months ago her Europe spokesman attempted to set a positive tone for the campaign by declaring that his party believed the UK could be successful outside the EU.
“That was a breath of fresh air – today is more like the smell of panic in Bute House.
“What Nicola forgets is that if we leave the EU it is her own government that would gain control in Scotland, not David Cameron – control over fishing, agriculture and important social and environmental legislation as well as other areas would be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
“Leaving the EU puts the power of Scotland’s future into Scotland’s hands.”
The First Minister’s intervention came after a day which saw Labour up its efforts to persuade its wavering voters to back the Remain cause.
Deputy leader Tom Watson said the EU’s free movement rules could be changed in future because of concerns about immigration and insisted a decision to stay in the EU would not mean the end of the reform agenda in the bloc.
Party leader Jeremy Corbyn warned the NHS would be at risk if the country votes to leave the EU as he pleaded for his party’s supporters and trade unionists to back the Remain cause.
Mr Corbyn said Labour would be making “the strongest case we can” for a Remain win following criticism about his level of involvement in the campaign.
Mr Watson said immigration was the issue which had been the backdrop to every election in Britain over the past decade.
“Woe betide politicians that don’t listen to what voters tell them,” he said.
He added: “I think we have to reassure people that if they vote Remain that isn’t the end of the reform package for Europe. You know, I think a future Europe will have to look at things like the free movement of labour rules.”
Mr Watson also urged David Cameron to push for a fund to target support at communities where public services were being stretched as a result of immigration.
He added that immigration was also an issue in other EU countries and the way to address it was to retain the UK’s seat at the negotiating table.
“It seems to me this just isn’t a phenomenon that affects the UK. It’s European-wide. And if we want to change the rules on the free movement of labour, you have to be in the European Union to do that,” he said.
“And I would imagine that a future UK government, when it comes to the next iteration of reform in Europe, will have to engage in that process.”
Asked if a Labour administration would suggest a control on the numbers coming to the UK, he said: “I think it’s very likely that a Labour government would want to reform the European Union.”
Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn used his speech at the TUC headquarters in London to say he was “proud” of the 52,000 EU workers in the NHS as he attacked the Leave camp’s rhetoric on immigration.