First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has admitted the prospect of Scottish independence is ‘at the heart’ of the General Election campaign.
She spoke as she joined former first minister Alex Salmond on a visit to a nursery in his Gordon constituency. Last week he said Scots would be voting in the general election on the “right of the Scottish Parliament” to hold a second referendum – just days after Ms Sturgeon had insisted the 8 June vote was not about independence.
Today, Ms Sturgeon acknowledged that indyref2 was at the heart of the vote.
The nursery visit comes after the Prime Minister visited the north-east at the weekend and issued an appeal to Scots who oppose independence to stand up “against the separatists who want to break up our country”.
Ms Sturgeon said the Tories should “watch their language”, and she accused Labour of focusing on independence due to a lack of positive policies after former chancellor Alistair Darling called on the SNP to rule out a second independence referendum while campaigning in Edinburgh.
She said: “It’s fine to have a robust debate, that’s what democracy and elections are all about, but using language that paints the SNP as something everybody knows we’re not, I think, is irresponsible.”
She added: “The issue at the heart of this election is whether you support independence or oppose independence, surely that decision should be taken by people in Scotland, by the Scottish people and the Scottish Parliament, and not by a Tory government at Westminster.
“It tells you everything you need to know about Labour today.
“I’m here talking about childcare, Alistair Darling could be talking about health or education, but in the absence of positive Labour policies all he wants to talk about is the SNP.”
The First Minister said nationalist MPs at Westminster would instead champion “progressive policies” for the country.
However Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said she was only in the area because she fears the SNP’s “neglect of the north-east will come back to bite her” in the June 8 General Election.
Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond visited a nursery in Insch, with the SNP leader saying they were “highlighting the SNP’s policy to almost double state-funded childcare provision, helping young people get the best start in life and helping working families”.
The First Minister added: “That stands in stark contrast to the Conservatives, who are taking child tax credits and working tax credits away from many working families, making their lives harder.”
She continued: “We know Theresa May wants a free hand to do whatever she wants.
“We’ve got to make sure that there’s a check on the Tories, that there’s strong opposition and strong voices for Scotland standing up for progressive policies like this one, and that in Scotland can only come from the SNP.”
The Scottish Government currently provides 16 hours a week of free childcare for three- and four-years-olds and vulnerable two-years-olds, and has pledged to increase this to 30 hours by 2020.
But Mr Rennie accused the SNP in government of having treated the north-east of Scotland “like a cash cow”, adding: “Nicola Sturgeon cannot escape the fact that the SNP’s actions have directly left areas like Aberdeen short changed.
“Business rates are up and local council funding is down.
“It makes grim reading for local services and businesses.”
He said: “Clearly the First Minister is spooked by the upcoming General Election; fearing that her neglect of the north-east will come back to bite her.
“However, it is too little too late for the SNP, who have neglected this area during their obsessive pursuit of independence.”
Mr Rennie stated: “This election is a chance to change the direction of our country and put an end to the SNP’s obsession with independence.
“A vote for the Scottish Liberal Democrats is a vote for a party that will put local needs first for the whole of Scotland.”