The Scottish National party’s Westminster leader on Sunday sought to portray independence for Scotland as an escape route from Conservative “sleaze, cronyism and corruption”, but offered little comfort for SNP members impatient for a second referendum on leaving the UK.
The comments from MP Ian Blackford highlight efforts by party leaders to make the failings of a Tory government beset by sleaze allegations a central focus of a low-key SNP online conference that ends on Monday.
Scotland was paying the “cost of Tory austerity cuts, the soaring cost of Brexit, the cost of a Westminster government engulfed in sleaze, cronyism and corruption”, Blackford said in comments released ahead of a conference speech on Sunday afternoon.
“Independence is now the pathway to safety and stability — it offers an escape from the constant crisis of Westminster control,” he said.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has been heavily criticised over revelations that several of his Tory backbenchers earned millions in additional income from second jobs.
John Swinney, Scotland’s deputy first minister, on Saturday denounced Westminster as “rotten to the core”, while Keith Brown, SNP depute leader, said on Friday that independence would save Scotland from a political elite that had “trashed the UK’s global reputation”.
The woes of the Johnson administration have offered the SNP a distraction from criticism of the party’s own record in government on areas such as health, education and the provision of ferry services to Scottish islands.
However, some SNP members are dismayed by the lack of progress towards any rematch of the 2014 independence referendum, in which voters in Scotland backed remaining in the UK by 55-45 per cent.
With Johnson making clear he will not approve a second referendum, the Scottish government plans to pass a bill paving the way for one and challenge the prime minister to try to block it in the courts.
However, Blackford on Sunday declined to say when the legislation would be put to the Scottish parliament. “That bill will come over the course of the coming period,” he told BBC Scotland.
SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted her priority was the coronavirus pandemic, making clear the emergence of the Omicron variant could further delay any action.
“If I stood up in front of my party . . . and told them that I alone in the world could see when this Covid pandemic was going to end, then people would look at me a bit askance,” Sturgeon said in an interview with the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show.
Analysts say Sturgeon has political reasons not to rush. Recent polls show a consistent lead for remaining in the UK.
The SNP has also yet to revise its case for independence following the collapse of oil revenues since 2014 and the UK’s departure from the EU.
Ian Murray, Labour’s shadow Scotland secretary, said the SNP could not merely suggest independence would be “all right on the night”.
“The SNP has held no less than three conferences this year, and have been campaigning for independence for a lifetime, yet they still don’t have the answers to basic questions about what independence would mean for ordinary Scots,” Murray said.