Scottish Tories to portray new Labour leader as soft on independence ahead of Holyrood elections

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Georgina Hayes
·3 min read
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Mr Ross, who has previously claimed that he would focus on non-constitutional issues when he took over as leader last year, will challenge both leadership hopefuls to rule out working with the SNP - Reuters
Mr Ross, who has previously claimed that he would focus on non-constitutional issues when he took over as leader last year, will challenge both leadership hopefuls to rule out working with the SNP - Reuters

The Tories will attempt to portray Scottish Labour's new leader as soft on independence, whichever candidate wins the contest tomorrow.

Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, will today warn the Labour leadership candidates that pro-UK voters are not looking for “fair weather” unionists who might “change direction like a weather vane” after the May 6 election.

Mr Ross, who has previously claimed that he would focus on non-constitutional issues when he took over as leader last year, will challenge both leadership hopefuls to rule out working with the SNP.

Anas Sarwar and Monicca Lennon, both running for the leadership after Richard Leonard stepped down in January, have clashed on the issue of a second independence referendum.

Ms Lennon has said she would accept a democratic mandate for a new vote. Mr Sarwar has taken a harder line, ruling one out for the term of the next parliament as the country rebuilds from Covid.

However, senior Tories have claimed no new votes should be held for several decades.

In a speech today, Mr Ross will claim that whoever wins the leadership, Labour will be “half-hearted on the constitution” because “either Monica Lennon will make the SNP’s arguments for them or Anas Sarwar will tell the SNP ‘not today but tomorrow is fine’ for your indyref2.”

Mr Ross became leader of the Scottish Conservatives last year - Reuters
Mr Ross became leader of the Scottish Conservatives last year - Reuters

He will also reveal that the Scottish Conservative election campaign message to appear on the ballot paper will be “End Division. No Referendum. Rebuild Scotland.”

“I have been clear that I would work with Labour to get 100 per cent of our focus on rebuilding Scotland but it has become clear they will never work with us,” Mr Ross will say.

“People who want to stop an SNP majority are not looking for someone who might turn around and betray them to prop up the SNP after the election.”

He will claim that Labour’s new leader will not rule out working with the SNP because “they can’t”, citing the fact that Labour have formed coalitions with the SNP in six councils across Scotland.

“In election after election, Labour voters have lent their vote to the Scottish Conservatives because they know we will always stand up to the SNP,” he will say.

“Just like in 2016 when we stopped an SNP majority, we are the natural home for any traditional Labour voter who wants their government focussed on rebuilding Scotland, not another divisive referendum.”

Ms Lennon, who leapt to prominence after her successful campaign to make period products free in Scotland, has stated that while she is against independence she would not oppose a vote if there was a democratic mandate for one.

Monica Lennon is currently Scottish Labour's health spokesperson - PA
Monica Lennon is currently Scottish Labour's health spokesperson - PA

"It should be a matter for Scotland, that's what the question is about,” Ms Lennon said in a BBC debate.

"If people in Scotland want a referendum - should they be able to have one? Yes, they should. It shouldn't be a matter for Boris Johnson to decide."

Ms Lennon has warned that more voters could abandon Labour if the party is seen to be aligning with Boris Johnson by refusing to accept the case for a fresh referendum if pro-independence parties win a majority of Holyrood seats in May - a scenario which polls suggest is extremely likely.

In this event, she believes Labour should campaign for a federal option on the ballot as an alternative to independence.

However, frontrunner Mr Sarwar has said that the prospect of another referendum is not credible as the country rebuilds from the pandemic and that to support one would be “deeply irresponsible”.