Nicola Sturgeon has warned leaving the European Union could jeopardise the NHS and workers’ rights as the countdown to the crunch referendum on the UK’s membership intensifies.
A senior Nationalist MP last night claimed a Brexit vote would bring about a “groundswell” of support for a second referendum on Scottish independence – and even suggested this could see the country adopt the euro as its currency.
It came as the Leave campaign claimed a Remain vote could cost Scotland’s NHS £600 million a year as campaigning got back into full swing following the killing of Labour MP Jo Cox, who was remembered in the House of Commons in front of her family yesterday. Anger over the politician’s murder flared up as Ukip leader Nigel Farage came under growing fire over a “vile and xenophobic” poster of queues of Syrian immigrants last week, unveiled just hours’ before the killing in Yorkshire.
Mr Farage accused Prime Minister David Cameron of trying to use Mrs Cox’s death to boost his chance of winning on Thursday, after Mr Cameron tweeted an article by Mrs Cox in which she argued Britain could deal with the issue of immigration more effectively by remaining in the EU.
Meanwhile, the First Minister said the referendum result could have “profound consequences” for Scotland’s health services as she addressed nurses in Glasgow yesterday.
“The claim that politicians leading the Leave campaign have made that they would spend more money on our NHS is surely one of the most deceitful and one of the most contemptible of all of the claims made,” she said.
She added: “I wish that people like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage just once could acknowledge the immense contribution than migrant workers make to our NHS instead of demonising them at every turn.
“For me, the idea that our NHS could fall into the hands of people who actually sit even to the right of George Osborne and Jeremy Hunt fills me with utter horror.
“To protect workers’ rights and to protect our NHS, we must and should vote Remain on Thursday.”
Labour research published yesterday, based on Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis, has shown that Scotland’s block grant could face cuts of up to 8.5 per cent, or £2.3 billion, by 2019-20.
These are cuts over and above those public services will face in the next four years, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “Being part of the EU is good for Scotland’s economy. Hundreds of thousands of Scottish jobs are linked to our trade with the EU and a Leave vote on Thursday would put that at risk.”
However, Tom Harris, director of Scottish Vote Leave, said Ms Sturgeon was “sticking her head in the sand” by “ignoring the pressures on local health services that would result from a Remain vote”.
He said: “Research releases show that if existing levels of EU net migration continue, NHS Scotland will require an additional £309m per year by 2030 to maintain current funding levels.
“But since migration is expected to climb far higher due to the introduction of the UK living wage and the accession of the new EU member countries, NHS Scotland may require well over half a billion pounds extra by 2030 – £624m per year – to maintain current funding levels.”
Ms Dugdale warned the negative effect of Brexit would be seen “almost instantly” as markets opened on Friday morning if there was a vote to leave.
Polls have suggested the two sides are neck-and-neck as the campaign enters its final days – although Scotland still appears to be more in favour of Remain than other parts of the UK.
Joanna Cherry, the SNP’s justice and home affairs spokeswoman told a BBC Scotland television debate last night that a Brexit vote, while Scotland votes to stay in, would be a “material change” which could bring about a second Scottish referendum.
She added: “There will be a groundswell of support for the idea of a second independence referendum if Scotland is taken out of the EU against her will and I base that on what people are saying to me on the doorsteps.”
Asked by Tory peer Lord Forsyth if Scotland would keep the pound or adopt the euro, the Edinburgh South West MP said: “We would need to look at the economic conditions at the time.”
She added: “We probably wouldn’t want to be tied to the pound if it nosedives after a Brexit.”
But this was branded “pure kidology” by former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars who said such a commitment was not set out explicitly in the SNP manifesto.
“The SNP does not have a mandate to hold a second independence referendum. They’re in the same position as Alex Salmond was in 2016 - a minority government.”