Theresa May has accused the SNP of being “completely out of touch” with the views of Scots as the party prepares to put the issue of independence at the centre of its summer conference.
In her first comments on the issue since a major SNP report restarted the debate about leaving the UK, the Prime Minister repeated her mantra that “now is not the time” for another referendum.
Ahead of the party’s gathering in Aberdeen, which begins on Friday, Nicola Sturgeon told delegates the event marked “the start of a new chapter in Scotland’s road to independence”. SNP members are meeting a fortnight after the party’s Sustainable Growth Commission published its report on the economic case for independence following the Brexit vote.
The document said an independent Scotland would take 25 years to bring its economy up to the level of other small nations, and would have to limit public spending for a decade to cut its deficit.
Some Yes supporters have criticised the report, saying its recommendations could lead to another 10 years of austerity following an independence vote and risked alienating working class voters.
Ms Sturgeon has disputed this reading of the report and in a message to SNP delegates she said it would inform the ongoing debate around Scotland’s future.
IndyRef2 question “With our opponents stuck quibbling grievances of the past, we’ve moved on to a debate about how we fulfil the potential of our country,” she wrote in a handbook sent to members. “The Growth Commission Report is packed full of new ideas for Scotland’s future. It shows that small, independent nations can be successful, and often more successful than larger nations.”
Asked about the possibility of a second independence referendum during Prime Minister’s Questions, Mrs May said the SNP was out of step with Scottish public opinion.
“The people of Scotland voted in a legal and fair referendum to remain part of the United Kingdom, and it is SNP Members, who are completely out of touch with the people of Scotland, who are continuing to press the issue of independence,” she said. “Now is not the time for a second independence referendum.
Now is the time for the United Kingdom to be pulling together, to get the right deal for the United Kingdom and the right deal for Scotland in our [Brexit] negotiations.”
Aside from a fringe meeting, the Growth Commission report is not due to be debated at the SNP conference, prompting accusations that the party was trying to bury dissent.
But party sources pointed out that the agenda for the conference had been finalised before the report was published, with members able to lodge a topical resolution on the issue if they wished. Ahead of the report’s publication, Ms Sturgeon said a series of “national assemblies” would be held for members to discuss the findings of the report and voice any objections.
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