Tories using Brexit as licence for xenophobia, warns Nicola Sturgeon


Nicola Sturgeon is to launch an attack on the Conservative Government, claiming it is using Brexit as a "licence for xenophobia", as the SNP's biggest-ever conference begins.

The vote to leave the EU and its implications for Scotland are set to dominate proceedings as 3,000 delegates gather for the event at the SECC in Glasgow.

The SNP leader and First Minister will open the autumn conference with a speech setting out her party's response to Brexit and contrasting it with the vision of the Westminster Tory Government, which she last week branded "deeply ugly".

She will also tell members that SNP MPs will vote against legislation to repeal EU laws, and will work in coalition with other parties against a "hard Brexit" in which the UK would leave the European single market.

Her comments followed speeches from Prime Minister Theresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd at the UK Tory Party conference in Birmingham last week, during which plans for an immigration crackdown were announced, including proposals for firms to have to list foreign workers.

Ms Sturgeon will also be under pressure to provide delegates with an update on the possibility of a second independence referendum in the wake of the vote to leave the EU - amid calls from opponents to take so-called indyref2 off the table.

She is expected to say: "Last week, we heard an intolerance towards those from other countries that has no place in a modern, multicultural, civilised society.

"It was a disgrace. It shames the Tory Party and all who speak for it.

"But make no mistake - the right wing of the Tory Party is now in the ascendancy and it is seeking to hijack the referendum result. Brexit has become Tory Brexit.

"They are using it as licence for the xenophobia that has long lain under the surface - but which is now in full view.

"They are holding it up as cover for a hard Brexit that they have no mandate for - but which they are determined to impose, regardless of the ruinous consequences.

"I suspect that many of those who voted to Leave now look at the actions and rhetoric of the Tories and think 'that's not what I voted for'.

"They may have voted to take back control - but I don't imagine many of them are happy to have handed that control to Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox.

"They certainly didn't vote to throw economic rationality out of the window. They didn't vote to lower their own living standards or to sacrifice jobs and investment. They didn't vote for our businesses to face tariffs or for holiday-makers to need visas. They didn't vote for the scapegoating of foreigners."

On the proposed Great Repeal Bill to end the authority of EU laws in the UK, she will add: "Scotland didn't vote for that and so neither will our MPs.

"But we will also work to persuade others - Labour, Liberals and moderate Tories - to join us in a coalition against a hard Brexit: not just for Scotland, but for the whole UK."

The conference will begin with the announcement of the SNP's new depute leader in a four-way race between MPs Angus Robertson and Tommy Sheppard, MEP Alyn Smith and Inverclyde councillor Chris McEleny.

Resolutions to be debated over the three-day conference include one from the Ayr North branch of the SNP on the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal use.

Meanwhile, the First Minister's speech on Saturday will set out a series of new priorities for the Scottish Government on health, education and the economy.

Opposition parties said Ms Sturgeon should use the conference to abandon talk of a second independence referendum.

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: "Scotland has spoken on independence. This week, the First Minister must show she has listened.

"It's deeply disappointing that instead of setting out a constructive plan on how she intends to manage the Brexit process, Nicola Sturgeon is intent on using her party conference to play to the SNP gallery.

"Cheap rabble-rousing in front of the party faithful won't obscure the First Minister's failure to speak for the majority of Scots - by taking her threat of a second referendum off the table."

Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael said: "The First Minister aspires to be a major player on the UK political scene. But her drive for a second independence poll is not only letting Scotland down.

"It is also letting down people in places like Manchester, Belfast and Cardiff who recognise the importance of maintaining our European ties.

"If the First Minister is serious about making progress on Europe then she needs to use this opportunity to listen to reason and say in no uncertain terms that independence is off the table."

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale accused Ms Sturgeon and the SNP of breaking promises that the 2014 independence referendum result would stand for a "generation" and was a "once in a lifetime opportunity".

She said: "That is why Scottish Labour will vote against any proposal for another referendum. There have been far too many broken promises from the SNP over the past decade; Nicola Sturgeon should not break her promise on a second independence referendum.

"Scotland needs a government that has answers for the future. Not one that plays a broken record and claims that independence - an argument of the past - is an answer for the challenges of tomorrow."