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Nicola Sturgeon has suggested that she alone offers “serious leadership” for Scotland, as a new poll indicated her Scottish National Party is en route to seizing a slim majority in next week’s crucial Holyrood elections.
The incumbent first minister – and strong favourite after seven years in power – attacked her opponents on Sunday as “vying for second place, openly saying they have got no plan for government”, as she continued her bid to claim a mandate for a fresh “legal” referendum on Scottish independence if her party wins a majority.
Her hopes were likely buoyed by a new BMG Research poll, published in The Herald on Sunday, which suggested the SNP is on course to win 68 seats, giving them a majority of seven – a prospect the pollsters said “remains on a knife-edge”.
Ms Sturgeon has faced fresh competition for seats at this election from former mentor-turned–“nuisance” Alex Salmond, who hopes to create a “supermajority” for independence with his new Alba Party’s regional-list-only campaign – a tactic that plays on Scotland’s Additional Member voting system and which saw the UK’s first ever Green Party politician elected back in Holyrood’s nascent 1999 election.
While BMG’s survey gives the Alba Party two seats, the firm’s head of polling Robert Struthers said the majority forecast for the SNP – which is running a “Both Votes SNP” campaign – was “thanks to a close to clean sweep of constituencies”.
The poll also suggests the Greens will pick up nine seats – meaning Holyrood would have 79 pro-independence MSPs out of 129.
Despite Ms Sturgeon having indicated her willingness to hold a consultative “wildcat” referendum in the event that Boris Johnson refuses to acknowledge a mandate for another vote, she has rejected pressure from Mr Salmond’s party to start negotiations with Westminster for a fresh plebiscite “immediately” after the 6 May election, saying she will wait until the coronavirus pandemic has abated before doing so.
However, Ms Sturgeon suggested independence and the success of Scotland’s post-pandemic future were interlinked as she told BBC Scotland on Sunday: “Recovery is not separate to who takes the decisions and where power lies.
“If we don't decide to take the longer-term recovery into our own hands, the real risk, just as was the case after the financial crash, is we have got another decade of Tory austerity.”
“It shouldn't be me as an individual politician, no more than it should be Boris Johnson as an individual politician who decides Scotland's future, it should be the people of Scotland, it is a basic principle of democracy,” she said, adding: “I don't want Boris Johnson making the decisions about the country Scotland will become.”
Her comments came as Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross – who on Sunday said Mr Johnson must resign if he is found to have broken the ministerial code with the funding of his Downing Street redecoration – warned Ms Sturgeon “wants to drive our economy off the edge of a cliff”.
Writing in the Scottish Sunday Express, Mr Ross said the SNP would be “making foreigners out of friends and family” if it managed to win a majority.
“Scotland stands on the brink,” he wrote. “This election is not about just the next five years but a generation that has been hit hard by a global pandemic and a vote that could change Scotland's future forever.
“If the SNP win a majority, they will not just be focused on delivering an independence referendum, but also building the case to persuade us of the need for separation.
“That can only distract attention and divert resources away from our recovery.”
In addition to the years of soaring drug deaths presided over by the SNP, another key criticism of Ms Sturgeon’s government is its failure to close the gap in performance between rich and poor children in Scotland’s schools.
With the first minister previously having asked voters to judge her on this issue, she conceded on Sunday that her party had “not yet done enough” in dealing with Scotland’s attainment gap, admitting: “It is not yet where I want it to be.”
As BMG’s poll suggested that 39 per cent of voters believed the SNP had handled education badly – versus just 34 per cent with a favourable view, Ms Sturgeon insisted progress has been made, pointing to “record numbers” of young people from deprived areas going to university.
She claimed the SNP would do more to tackle the “driver of the attainment gap, which is child poverty”, if re-elected for a fourth term – decrying the “unacceptable” fact that around one in four Scottish children are calculated to live below the poverty line, with that figure having risen since the early 2010s, according to the Scottish Government.
“We are not saying there are not big challenges to address in this country, but we are the only party doing the work and putting forward the plans to actually do that,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“And that’s the choice people have on Thursday, do you want to vote for parties that are vying for second place, openly saying they have got no plan for government, or do you want a serious first minister – an experienced first minister– that is leading a government that is serious about tackling the challenges.”
Ms Sturgeon, who said she would serve out the full five-year term if re-elected as first minister, added: “This country needs serious leadership because it is a serious time, and that is what I offer.
“It seems that I am the only one in this campaign offering that.”
Additional reporting by PA
This article was updated on 5 May to correct the description of Alba’s election campaign to regional-list-only, and not constituency-only as originally reported.