Tories claim election defeat for SNP 'could end independence push for good'

Douglas Ross has claimed that defeat at the polls next month for the SNP could be the final straw in ending the party’s demands for Scottish independence.

SNP leader John Swinney has been warned a loss at the general election could end his party’s push for independence “for good” as the constitution is set to take a back seat with voters during the campaign.

Douglas Ross will launch the Scottish Conservatives’ election campaign in Perth today, where Mr Swinney is the local MSP and Pete Wishart has been SNP MP since 2001, as the Tories and SNP get poised to go head-to-head in key marginal seats across Scotland.

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SNP leader John Swinney on the campaign trail (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)SNP leader John Swinney on the campaign trail (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
SNP leader John Swinney on the campaign trail (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Mr Ross has insisted that defeat at the Westminster election for the SNP could “finally end their independence demands for good”.

Scottish Labour launched its election campaign on Friday with a pitch to independence backers to loan Keir Starmer’s party their support at the ballot box - with both Labour and the Tories focusing their attack lines on the SNP’s record in government over the last 17 years.

The prospects of Scottish independence have not looked gloomier in more than a decade with no clear route to separation carved out by the SNP. Despite the SNP committing to place independence as a central pledge in the party’s manifesto, the issue is unlikely to be the key talking point ahead of the July 4 election.

Mr Ross added: “For more than a decade, ever since that once-in-a-generation referendum, the SNP have focused only on independence at the expense of everything else.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross (Photo Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross (Photo Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross (Photo Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

“Voters have a once-in-a-generation chance to beat the SNP by voting Scottish Conservative in key seats up and down the country. By beating the SNP, we can get all of the focus over the next five years onto creating good jobs, reducing NHS waiting lists and investing to improve our public services.

“Scotland has had enough of the SNP’s non-stop demands for independence and the way they overlook the issues that really matter.”

The Scottish Tory leader added: “Let’s get out there and fight for the neglected patients, pupils, parents, workers who have been let down by the SNP. Let’s get out there and win in key seats right across Scotland. Let’s get out there and beat the SNP.”

Speaking to The Scotsman yesterday, Mr Ross highlighted the SNP’s “obsession with independence” and insisted Conservative candidates will be “local champions in their area”.

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SNP leader John Swinney (Photo by Lesley Martin/PA Wire)SNP leader John Swinney (Photo by Lesley Martin/PA Wire)
SNP leader John Swinney (Photo by Lesley Martin/PA Wire)

He added: “They will be focused on investing in our education system, reducing waiting times in our NHS, creating good jobs, growing the economy. All of that is in stark contrast to the nationalists who are obsessed with independence.

“John Swinney has been clear that independence and separation will be page one line one of his manifesto, his government will have independence at the heart of it. The voters don’t want that - they want the focus to be on their priorities in key seats up and down the country.”

The Scottish Conservatives are defending six seats and are hoping to double that tally with 12 or 13 target seats identified - all battles with the SNP.

Mr Ross said he was “confident we can have a very good election here in Scotland”.

He added: “We are defending six seats at the moment and we want to make gains as well. Those gains will be at the expense of the SNP.”

Mr Swinney is likely to push his party’s thirst for independence as the campaign ramps up - claiming that the Union is holding back progress in Scotland.

But a leading pollster has warned that the SNP could put off voters if it pushes too hard on demanding a second referendum or the beginning of the process for Scotland leaving the Union.

Polling expert Mark Diffley has raised the alarm that “ramping up” the independence push during the campaign could turn off even those sympathetic to the cause as election day approaches.

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The most recent YouGov poll, which gives Labour a 10-point lead over the SNP in Scotland, found that one in four Scots (24 per cent) who voted “Yes” at the 2014 referendum plan on voting for Sir Keir’s party next month. It marks a significant increase to the 15 per cent of pro-independence voters who said they would support Labour in a September YouGov poll.

Mr Diffley, founder of consultancy The Diffley Partnership, said: “Winning those [pro-independence] voters is very important for Labour. It appears somewhat successful at this stage. The SNP need to stem that flow of Yes voters drifting off to Labour.”

He said Mr Swinney and his party were already “battering” the independence message rather than “holding back” on it.

Mr Diffley added: “It’s essentially a core vote strategy. They seem to be assuming voters are drifting away because they’re losing interest in the independence issue, and thinking, ‘We need to ramp up the issue.’”

But Mr Diffley warned that in doing so, the SNP could turn off a wider group of voters, including many “soft” nationalists, who do not want to focus on another independence referendum.

He said: “We did research last week that showed only one in 10 [Scottish voters] had the independence issue in their top three priorities. A lot of people are focused on schools, health, crime and so on.”

The SNP’s deputy leader Keith Brown has been pushing the independence position agreed at the party’s autumn conference – that winning a majority of Scottish seats, at least 29, would be a mandate for another referendum.

“Real change can come with the SNP winning the election,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Show. “And if we do that, we start negotiations [with the UK Government] for independence.”

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Despite the SNP going into the general election with 43 seats and having been the party of government in Scotland for the past 17 years, Mr Swinney has suggested the SNP could be seen as underdogs next month - a label he believes could work in his favour.

Speaking to journalists as he campaigned in Dumfries yesterday, Mr Swinney said: “I want to make sure we take our message to every part of the country to reclaim the ground the opinion polls indicate we have got to reclaim to be successful.

“The election is the best part of six weeks away and we have got a lot of ground to cover to do that.”

Asked if that meant the SNP was now fighting this election as the “underdog”, the Scottish First Minister said: “That’s an interesting way to put it.

“Actually, it is quite a good way to fight an election campaign, if I think back to the contest in 2017 in my own local area, Perth and North Perthshire.”

Mr Swinney said in that general election it had been thought the SNP could lose that seat, but he noted: “We fought it as the underdog and we won. So, I think there is maybe something in that.”

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