Nicola Sturgeon launched a stinging attack on Theresa May over “disgusting” plans to introduce a so-called “rape clause” to the welfare benefits system at a conference in New York last night.
“That policy is being introduced by a woman prime minister,” Ms Sturgeon said of the Tory leader in relation to the clause forcing claimants to prove they were raped before getting benefits for a third child which came into effect yesterday despite widespread opposition from campaign groups.
“It is a disgusting and disgraceful policy,” Ms Sturgeon said. “It’s not enough to be a woman in politics – you have to do the right thing with the power you’ve got.”
The First Minister again hit out at Mrs May’s decision to block a second referendum on independence after the Scottish Parliament voted for it last month.
She said the prime minister is blocking a referendum because she fears Scots will vote to leave the UK.
The First Minister was speaking during an question and answer session with publisher Tina Brown at the Women in the World conference.
“The fact that she’s trying to stand in the way of a democratic referendum where Scotland can, in light of Brexit, choose the path we take probably suggests she’s a bit worried about not winning that argument. We’re at a crossroads now and as part of that so is Scotland.
“We can go down one path, the Brexit path that I fear will lead to the UK becoming more inward looking and isolationist. Or we can decide that we want to continue to be an open, welcoming, diverse tolerant country – a small country, but one that wants to play our part of the world.”
Ms Sturgeon had earlier said she has no intention of taking legal action to try to secure a second referendum.
The First Minister did not rule the move out but indicated that rather than being settled by the courts, the matter should be decided by politicians.
She said: “It is absolutely essential that if the will of the Scottish Parliament is for a referendum then that should be respected.
“I don’t think there is any need, nor is there any intention, to see a matter that should be settled politically end up in the courts.”
There had been speculation the Scottish Government could be about to mount a legal challenge after the First Minister pointed out the decision to reserve constitutional matters for Westminster to deal with had never been tested in the courts.
In a question-and-answer session following a speech at Stanford University in California, Ms Sturgeon also said it was ‘’quite a vague term’’.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie demanded answers, calling on the First Minister to provide “clarity on exactly what you are planning to do”.
But Mr Rennie said the First Minister was “refusing to fully rule out court action”, accusing her of “tramping along a familiar nationalist path”.
He stated: “Keeping the option of court action means we are stuck with the SNP’s rat-a-tat-tat campaign for independence moving forward every day.
“The First Minister’s refusal to clearly rule out court action on an independence referendum shows she is increasingly desperate in her bid for independence.”
The Scottish Government insists a second referendum is needed to give Scots a choice between Brexit and independence.
Ms Sturgeon has proposed such a vote be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, when the terms of the UK’s exit deal from the European Union are known.
While the decision to leave the EU was backed by a majority of voters in the 2016 referendum, 62 per cent of Scots who took part opted for remain.
The SNP leader is engaged in a stand-off with Theresa May over the prospect of a fresh ballot on independence, with the Prime Minister saying ‘’now is not the time’’ for such a vote to be held.
Ms Sturgeon also said Donald Trump’s ownership of golf resorts in Scotland will not stop her from standing up to the US president. She stressed the importance of championing values but said she would be willing to meet the billionaire tycoon who she has strongly criticised in the past.
Mr Trump has often celebrated his Scottish ancestry, as his mother came from the Western Isles.
Ms Sturgeon, however, revoked his status as business ambassador for Scotland after he proposed banning Muslims from entering the US in 2015.
She said: “The fact that Donald Trump owns golf courses in Scotland does not mean that if I disagree with him on a matter of policy or a matter of principle that I will not say that.
“But I would seek to operate in a way that is respectful and constructive.”
Ms Sturgeon stressed how important it is “to stand up and champion values that we hold dear and not allow a diplomatic silence to get in the way of doing that”.