Theresa May will be forced to U-turn on granting permission for a second independence referendum if the SNP wins the general election in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has claimed.
But the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson appeared to rule out any climbdown before the next Scottish election in 2021, saying she did not expect indyref2 to happen “anytime soon”.
It came as a poll suggested the SNP could fall to its worst election result since coming to power in Scotland ten years ago and lose more than a dozen MPs on 8 June, weakening its hand on a second referendum.
In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil, Ms Sturgeon confirmed that the SNP would “look to be part of a progressive alliance” that supported a Labour government, with UK-wide polls showing a narrowing gap between Jeremy Corbyn’s party and the Tories.
But Ms Sturgeon refused to back Mr Corbyn over Theresa May, saying she did not think he was “credible as an alternative prime minister”. Polls suggest the Conservatives have seen their lead over Labour dwindle from as much as 24 per cent when the election was called last month to as little as 5 per cent last week after a controversial manifesto and a U-turn on social care.
Conservative Party chairman Patrick McLoughlin claimed the SNP would prop up a “weak and unstable coalition” that would put the UK’s Brexit deal at risk: “Corbyn and the rest would put up taxes, weaken our defences and increase immigration. And we know, he would give in to Sturgeon’s demand for another independence referendum, because he’s ‘absolutely fine’ with that.”
The First Minister told Andrew Neil that Mrs May’s position on ruling out a second independence referendum until Brexit has “played out” would “quickly become unsustainable” in the event of an SNP victory.
“If the SNP win the election, having won the Scottish election last year on the strength of a manifesto commitment that was very clear, and in the interim the Scottish Parliament having backed it, then I think that position of the Prime Minister is unsustainable,” she said.
Ms Sturgeon added: “This is not a Prime Minister who’s very good at holding position when she feels it’s under pressure. She’s a Prime Minister that has seemed to perfect the art of the U-turn.”
The First Minister rejected claims that the SNP was watering down its commitment to Europe, stating: “I’d want an independent Scotland to be a member of the EU.”
Speaking earlier, Ms Davidson said the SNP had lost its overall majority in the 2016 Scottish election and denied the Scottish Government had a mandate to demand a second referendum. The Scottish Conservative leader told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland: “With the current trajectory of support in this country going down for another independence referendum I don’t see it happening any time soon, because the people of Scotland don’t want it, I’m going to stand up for them.
“There is no support for another independence referendum, it doesn’t look like there is going to be any support for another referendum, and as we see from Nicola Sturgeon trying quietly this week to ditch independence as a campaigning tool, we’re not going to see it any time soon.”
The Conservative manifesto makes clear that there should not be another referendum without “public consent” and until the Brexit process has “played out”.
Ms Davidson said that meant “until we know how it’s working on the ground”. She added: “Of course there’s going to be a primary transfer of powers as we leave the EU from Brussels to Westminster, but there is also then going to be a secondary transfer of powers to the devolved administrations.”