Nicola Sturgeon has claimed that Scotland’s future is “on the line” when voters go to the polls next month at a general election the SNP leader believes is “the most important in our lifetimes”.
The First Minister used a mass pro-independence rally in Glasgow city centre on Saturday to fire the starting gun on the Nationalists’ campaign ahead of the December 12 poll, with a strong message that Scots had already rejected Brexit and should instead look to secure independence with another referendum to take place next year.
With George Square closed to traffic and packed with thousands of onlookers braving dreich conditions, Ms Sturgeon said that the days of Scotland “choosing the lesser of two evils” between the Tories and Labour at general elections were coming to an end.
While her 10 minute speech was cheered by the firmly pro-independence audience, opposition parties were quick to claim the SNP leader was once again placing independence above the day-to-day priorities that voters most cared about.
The Scottish Conservatives said the Nationalists were seeking to divide communities “all over again”, while Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said Sturgeon was attacking his party as it represented “the biggest threat to independence”.
But those comments would have meant little to a saltire-waving crowd that seemed confident the SNP could go someway to repeating its greatest election result, when it came close to a clean-sweep of constituencies north of the Border in 2015.
Arriving on stage just after 3pm, Ms Sturgeon said: “We are gathered here for one simple purpose - that purpose is to demand the right to choose a better future for our country.
“We are gathered here to demand the right to choose an independent future for Scotland. My friends, make no mistake - the general election that we face on December 12 is the most important election for Scotland in our lifetimes.
“The future of our country is on the line, and there is no doubt whatsoever that Scotland stands at the crossroads.
“Down one path is a future that will be dictated to us by the likes of Boris Johnson. Where tax cuts for the wealthiest take priority over our people and public services - that is not the Scotland that we want.
“Down that road where Scotland is left out of our European family of nations against our will. A future where the UK turns in on itself. A future where there is a hostile environment for migrants. That is not the Scotland we want.
“The Scotland we seek is open, welcoming and diverse.”
The SNP leader attacked Boris Johnson’s Government, claiming it would not stand up to demands from Donald Trump and that Brexit could weaken the NHS and workers’ rights.
She continued: “There is a much better alternative - and not a UK Labour Government that can’t even make up its mind where it stands on the question of Brexit.
“The days when Scotland has to make do with the choice of the lesser of two evils - these days must come to an end.”
Addressing Mr Johnson and UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Ms Sturgeon said: “Let me send a message to both of them. Why are you so scared of having real debate? I will debate either of you, or both, at any time.
“The better alternative for our country is to take our future into our hands and to become an independent country that invests in our people, and invests in public services, and not in Brexit or Trident.
“We must come out in numbers and vote in this election to escape the chaos and misery of Brexit, to vote to put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands.
“I ask of you, as I prepare to lead you to an independence referendum next year, that we persuade everyone we can in the coming weeks to come out on December 12 and send the biggest, loudest, most resounding message to Wesminster - that it is time for Scotland to choose our own future, and it is time for Scotland to be an independent country.
“Next year our challenge is not just to make sure this city votes Yes in even greater numbers - our challenge and opportunity is to make sure that every part of Scotland votes yes to independence.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “Nicola Sturgeon has launched a wave of attacks against the Labour Party as she knows we are her biggest threat in this election.
“She wants Boris Johnson back in Downing Street as she knows Labour’s transformative programme in government under Jeremy Corbyn will make the best and positive case for remaining in the UK.”
Scottish Conservative MSP Annie Wells said: “Annie Wells said: “While Nicola Sturgeon is banging on about indyref2, I’m out talking to people about the state of their local schools, the drug deaths crisis and violent crime taking over our streets, and the problems at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
“The SNP took charge of Glasgow City Council and things are even worse than under Labour.
“Instead of tackling the day-to-day things that Glaswegians care about, Nicola Sturgeon is headlining a nationalist rally. She is showing everyone that her priority is indyref2 above everything else.”