The SNP are too busy trying to break up the UK to commit themselves to the fight to stop Brexit, the favourite to become the next Liberal Democrat leader has claimed.
East Dunbartonshire MP Jo Swinson called on the SNP to give their full backing to the campaign for a so-called “People’s Vote” on the terms of the UK’s Brexit deal, accusing them of using the current political turmoil to advance the case for independence.
Her comments came as a leading SNP MP said her party “must have a position on what should happen next” as time runs out to get an agreement with Brussels.
Joanna Cherry said there were “no circumstances in which the SNP could support a deal” based on Theresa May’s Chequers proposals, which would take the UK out of the EU single market and customs union. Writing in the National, Ms Cherry said that among the SNP membership “all are agreed there is an urgent need to formulate a policy which the whole party can get behind given the potential proximity of a general election, independence referendum or People’s Vote”.
She added: “If it’s full steam ahead to a no-deal Brexit or if Westminster votes to accept the deal, Brexit will happen, and in that event, we have to decide when to hold the independence referendum for which we have a mandate.”
The SNP has said it would not stand in the way of a second vote on EU membership, but is calling for assurances that Holyrood will be given the power to hold a new referendum on Scottish independence.
Attacking the SNP’s refusal to offer its full backing, Ms Swinson told the Lib Dem conference in Brighton: “They make all the right noises about wanting to stay in the European Union, but actions speak louder than words.
“The reality is that Scottish Nationalists have a one-track mind. While the country edges closer to the precipice, they’re manoeuvering to turn Brexit into the break-up of the UK.”
Ms Swinson, who is expected to succeed Lib Dem leader Vince Cable before the next general election is scheduled in 2022, also said Labour had the power to stop Brexit if they joined the campaign for a fresh vote on EU membership.
“Jeremy Corbyn is letting the Prime Minister off the hook. My message to him is very clear: Jeremy, grow a backbone, stand up for the millions of people who voted for you and help us stop Brexit.”
An SNP spokesman said: “This is shameless stuff from the Lib Dems who joined the other Westminster parties in completely ignoring Scotland’s overwhelming democratic decision to remain in the EU.
“The Lib Dems have yet to explain what guarantees there would be that Scotland’s voice wouldn’t simply be ignored again in another EU referendum.”
In her speech, Ms Swinson also said her party had to “own the failures” of its time in coalition with the Tories. “I’m proud of what we achieved – but I’m not naive or blinkered about it,” she said.
“If we are to claim the successes of our time in government we need to own the failures of it too. We lost too many arguments. When they fought dirty, we were too nice.”