Nicola Sturgeon has sidestepped claims that the prospect of a second independence referendum is behind a dramatic fall in her personal popularity in Scotland.
It came as an SNP candidate in the Lothians took out an advert in his local paper proclaiming that the election is not about independence – just days after the party’s manifesto launch when Ms Sturgeon said victory on 8 June would give her a “triple lock” mandate for indyref2.
An Ipsos Mori poll this week found Ms Sturgeon’s personal popularity was down 18 points to minus four. It makes her the most unpopular Scottish leader, behind Tory leader Ruth Davidson on plus 6, although this was also down 25 points.
Ms Sturgeon declined to say if this was down to demands for a second referendum when asked directly about this on the campaign trail yesterday.
“I’m focussed on the SNP winning the election – as long as the SNP stays ahead and the we win the election, that’s what I’m focused on,” she said.
Asked if she was “surprised or disappointed” by the slide in her popularity, she said: “We’re in an election campaign and what matters to me is that the SNP wins the election and the SNP are the best part of 20 points ahead if our nearest rivals so we will continue to campaign and get our message across and work for a victory.”
The poll did show that the SNP was on course for a resounding win, taking up to 50 of Scotland’s 59 seats with 43 per cent support.
But support for independence has dipped, with 47 per cent of Scots telling the Ipsos Mori they would vote Yes, after their previous poll had this at 50 per cent
The SNP candidate in East Lothian, George Kerevan, yesterday took out an advert in local newspaper the East Lothian Courier stating: “This election is NOT about independence.”
The constituency is Labour’s top target in Scotland and the party said yesterday that the resounding message from voters on the doorstep – in an area which voted No to independence in 2014 – is that Scots want to “move on” from the constitution.
The advert came just two days after Ms Sturgeon launched the SNP manifesto which stated that an SNP victory would give her a “triple lock” mandate for another vote on leaving the UK – after last year’s Scottish election win and the vote at Holyrood for a second referendum earlier this year.
Scottish Labour general election campaign manager James Kelly said: “Nicola Sturgeon is clearly in denial.
“Her obsession with a divisive second independence referendum has infuriated the majority of Scots who want to move on from the arguments of the past. Our health and education services are in crisis and voters are clearly telling Nicola Sturgeon she needs to get back to the day job.
“Labour is the only party that can defeat the SNP in the majority of seats in Scotland next week.”
The SNP leader said Theresa May is still on course to win on 8 June, but suggested the size of the Tory majority could come dow n to the outcome in Scotland urged voters not to throw the Prime Minister a “lifeline”.
“Scotland is really finding itself in a potentially pivotal position in this election,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“We’ve seen Theresa May exposed as a weak and evasive Prime Minister who can’t even answer questions about the impact of her own cuts on pensioners and hard-working families. As the polls narrow across the rest of the UK, yes the Tories might still be on track to win this election, but whether or not they increase their majority could come down to the outcome in Scotland.
“That gives Scotland a choice – do we send Tory MPs to be rubber stamps for what Theresa May wants to do or do we take the opportunity to keep the Tories in check and elect SNP MPs who will stand up for Scotland.”