Brown challenges Sturgeon on second referendum

GORDON Brown yesterday claimed the SNP is fighting for a second independence referendum as he warned against a repeat of the acrimony, bitterness and divisiveness of last year’s poll.

The 'Hope Over Fear' rally in George Square, Glasgow yesterday. Picture: PA
The 'Hope Over Fear' rally in George Square, Glasgow yesterday. Picture: PA

The former prime minister claimed Nicola Sturgeon’s party wanted “chaos and constitutional crisis” at Westminster amid signs that some SNP candidates and Yes activists believe the general election should be a stepping stone to independence.

On an intensive day of campaigning, Brown attempted to rally support for Labour in one of the many seats threatened by the SNP surge, while independence supporters gathered in Glasgow to campaign for the break-up of the United Kingdom.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Although Sturgeon has repeatedly said next month’s election is not about another referendum, Brown claimed her comments on the issue were “all evasion”. The SNP manifesto did not include a commitment to a referendum, but last week Sturgeon said she would know “in her gut” when the time was right for another independence vote.

Gordon Brown: SNP "all evasion". Picture: PA

Campaigning in the Paisley and Renfrewshire South seat held by his friend, the shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, Brown said: “Remember what the SNP used to say – the referendum was once in a generation, then it changed a little to once in a lifetime, then it was once every 15 years and now when you ask Ms Sturgeon about this her answers are all evasion.”

She cannot give a straight answer to the question. And I say I don’t want the divisiveness, I don’t want the bitterness, I don’t want the acrimony, I don’t want the divisions between families and communities in the next few months that we had in the past few months.”

Brown added: “When you vote on May 7, remember that you are not just voting to end Tory austerity and the possibility of five more years of the bedroom tax and everything else, you’re also voting on whether you are going to allow the SNP to use your vote to try to force a second referendum on this country within a few months or after the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.”

Speaking at Elderslie Village Hall, Brown also attacked the SNP candidate Mhairi Black, who says she favours another referendum after May 7. May. Polls suggest the 20-year-old is in line to unseat Alexander.

The Hope Over Fear rally in support of the SNP in George Square, Glasgow, yesterday. Picture: Robert Perry

“There is an SNP candidate in this constituency. She says vote SNP, get SNP MPs at Westminster and we will twist their arms and get another referendum…But does not the SNP candidate in this constituency tell the truth, that what they want is an SNP vote not to deliver social justice but to deliver the chaos and constitutional crisis at Westminster to, as she said, force a second referendum,” Brown said. He was referring to YouTube footage posted in March, which featured Black saying: “If we can send back that many SNP...MPs to Westminster, that is the power to twist their arm and get that other referendum and hold them to account. So, in many ways, May is just as important as the referendum.”

More evidence of a belief that the constitutional question has not been settled has been found on the Facebook page of the SNP candidate for Edinburgh South, Neil Hay.

Last week Sturgeon defied calls for Hay to be sacked as a candidate after he was exposed as a “cybernat”, who used a Twitter account to compare pro-UK supporters to the Nazi collaborator Vidkun Quisling.

Under the pseudonym Paco McSheepie, Hay also disparaged elderly voters by attacking them for “barely knowing their own name”.

Yesterday it emerged that Hay had suggested on his Facebook page that if the SNP returned the greatest number of Scottish MPs next month, that would be a sufficient mandate for independence.

Hay posted a link to an article in The Scotsman quoting former SNP leader Alex Salmond, which was headlined: “Salmond: We don’t need referendum for independence”.In the article published just ­after the No vote, Salmond said achieving an SNP majority at Holyrood was a way of achieving his party’s goal.

Above the link, Hay posted: “Good to see the plethora of fearmongers and bullies are bricking it already. They know what they did. They know what is going to happen and their gunpowder is no longer dry.

“Electorate Law will prevail if the SNP take a majority of WM seats next year or there is another majority the SNP in 2016 [Holyrood elections]. Watch this space.” On the same page, Hay described MPs as “paedophiles, tax- dodgers, perjurers and thieves.”

In the aftermath of the referendum two SNP elected councillors tried to encourage public support for the idea of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence.

The issue of another referendum was also on the agenda yesterday when thousands of independence supporters gathered in George Square in Glasgow - renamed “Freedom Square” by activists - for a “Hope Over Fear” rally.

At the event, campaigners queued up to sign a petition calling for a unilateral declaration of independence.

Labour stepped up its calls for Sturgeon to sack Hay.

However, an SNP spokesman said: “Neil Hay has made clear that he regrets the inappropriate comments he made in the past on social media and has rightly apologised for them.

“This election is not about independence or another referendum, it’s about ensuring that Scotland’s voice is heard at Westminster. Whether there is another referendum, and whether Scotland then becomes independent is a matter for the people of Scotland to decide.”

Reacting to Brown’s speech, the SNP deputy leader John Swinney MSP said: “While Gordon Brown appears to be re-fighting last year’s referendum, the SNP are out talking to voters about next month’s general election and the huge opportunity to make Scotland stronger at Westminster. The contrast could not be clearer.”