Nicola Sturgeon has claimed the forthcoming general election is not about independence as a new poll indicates that support for a Yes vote is weakening.
The First Minister went on the offensive yesterday when she accused Theresa May of calling the snap election before the prospect of criminal prosecutions over election fraud “catches up with her”.
She said the Tories may have been guilty of “buying the last general election” as up to 20 Conservative MPs in England await the outcome of criminal inquiries over their use of “battle buses” on the campaign trail in 2015.
Ms Sturgeon and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn both addressed the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) in Aviemore.
The SNP leader had last week indicated that a sweeping victory for her party in the election would strengthen her hand in demands for a second referendum on Scottish independence, which won the backing of MSPs in a vote at Holyrood last month.
But she said yesterday: “People who want to make sure that Scotland has strong voices against the Conservatives in this election need to vote for the SNP because that’s what this election above all else is about.
“The election won’t decide whether or not Scotland becomes independent, we got a mandate for the referendum in the election last year.
“So this is about whether Scotland’s voice is heard and Scotland’s interests are protected. And there is a clear choice. A vote for the Tories is not some pain-free tactical vote.”
Her comments came as a new poll suggested 60 per cent of Scots are opposed to independence, with 40 per cent in favour, excluding “don’t knows”.
The Kantar poll was conducted before Mrs May called the election, but suggests a significant fall in support for a Yes vote from the 47 per cent who backed this when the same organisation polled Scots last August, when 53 per cent backed staying in the UK. It is also a shift from the 2014 referendum result which saw 45 per cent support for independence and 55 per cent voting to stay in the UK.
Polling at the weekend suggested that the Tories could take up to a third of the vote in Scotland, with senior figures like Westminster leader Angus Robertson in Moray and Scottish affairs committee chair Peter Wishart in Perth and North Perthshire facing a battle to hold on to their seats,
Ms Sturgeon refused to be drawn yesterday on how many seats she is targeting in the forthcoming campaign, insisting only that more than half of Scotland’s 59 constituencies would represent victory.
She said: “Winning an election for most parties is winning more seats and more votes than anybody else. I’ll be fighting every seat to win and I’ll be defining it no more than that.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “We are at the start of a general election campaign, a campaign called by the Prime Minister last week for one purpose and one purpose only – to strengthen the grip of the Tory party and crush dissent and opposition.
“And to do so before possible criminal prosecutions for alleged expenses fraud at the last general election catches up with her.
“We must not allow the Tory party to escape the accountability for any misdemeanours which may have led to them buying the last general election.”
Fourteen police forces in England have sent files to the Crown Prosecution Service relating to the Tory 2015 “battle bus” scheme, which it has been alleged led to Tory candidates breaking strict spending limits on elections.
The CPS is currently reviewing the evidence and considering whether to charge the MPs with breaking election spending limits.
A Conservative spokesman said the battlebus campaign was part of its national return.
“The Electoral Commission report makes clear that our interpretation of the guidance was correct,” he said.