Nicola Sturgeon rejects 'ludicrous' claims Tory surge could stop referendum bid

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Nicola Sturgeon has dismissed as "ludicrous" any claims that the surge in Tory support in Scotland could derail her bid to hold a second independence referendum.

The First Minister and SNP admitted the Conservatives in Scotland had "a good day by their standards", with the party returning a record number of councillors north of the border.

But she insisted the SNP had "won this election comfortably" with her party ending up with "more votes, more seats, more councils where we are the largest party, not just compared to every other party but compared to five years ago".

Ms Sturgeon said: "Yes, the Tories made gains and had a good performance by their standards - but that support came from Labour not the SNP, so Labour and the Tories are fighting it out for second place while the SNP continues to be comfortably in first place."

She said: "This was a council election that the SNP fought on local issues, which is probably why the SNP won the election so emphatically.

"But let's take the Tory argument at face value. They chose to fight the election on the issue of an independence referendum, they talked about nothing else, they didn't have any policies for local government.

"So they put that issue centre stage and they lost the election. They came second in the election and the SNP came first.

"If you're going to put a single issue at the centre of your own campaign, then you lose the election, then you're left with a bit of egg on your face and I think the Tories have egg on their face on that question this morning.

"They've had a good day by their standards but we've got to put into context - the Tories polled a lower share of the vote in Scotland than Jeremy Corbyn did in England so, yes, a good performance from a low starting point but it's Labour that the Tories have taken support from, not the SNP."

She spoke out after Scottish Conservatives won a record 276 councillors north of the border - more than double the 115 they secured five years ago - with Tories elected in places such as Paisley's Ferguslie Park, the most deprived part of Scotland

The SNP remains the largest party in local government with 431 councillors voted in, up slightly from its total of 425 in 2012.

But if voting patterns are similar at the General Election on June 8, a surge in Conservative support could see Ruth Davidson's party oust some SNP MPs from Westminster.

Meanwhile, Labour slumped to become the third largest party in Scotland's councils, and was kicked out of power in its Glasgow heartland for the first time in almost 40 years.

Ms Davidson said the results showed "only the Scottish Conservatives have the strength to fight back against the SNP".

She said: "We will speak up for the millions of Scots who have had enough of the uncertainty and division of the last few years.

"We will stand up for everyone who doesn't want a second referendum on independence."

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale also said there had been a "clear backlash against the SNP's plans for a divisive second independence referendum".

However, Ms Sturgeon said: "I've heard lots of ludicrous arguments in my time in politics but this takes the prize for the most ludicrous argument."

The First Minister also made clear she is confident the SNP will be able to hold on key constituencies the Tories are targeting.

The Conservatives are bidding to oust a number of high-profile nationalists, including Westminster leader Angus Robertson, former first minister Alex Salmond, and Pete Wishart, the chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee, in the General Election.

"We take nothing for granted but I'm confident that the strength of these local candidates will win through," the First Minister stated.

"And as for the General Election, while you've always got to be careful about extrapolating from one election to another, the issue for Scotland becomes quite clearly focused.

"The results in England will tell everybody that the Tories are on course to win the election - the question for Scotland is, do we want to make sure we've got strong voices standing up for Scotland providing opposition to the Tories?

"I think most people will want to see that, which is why it is important to stress the only way to get that is to vote SNP."

She insisted there was "not a shred of disappointment" that the SNP had failed to secure an overall majority in Glasgow City Council, where Labour had been in power since 1980.

Ms Sturgeon said: "I'm over the moon that we are the largest party in Glasgow and are about to form an administration in the city.

"When I first became active in politics in Glasgow the SNP had one councillor in the city chambers and the joke was the Labour vote was weighed, not counted, in Glasgow.

"Now we have every Westminster constituency, every Scottish Parliament constituency and we're about to form an administration.

"The term historic is often overused in politics but to see 40 years of Labour control in Glasgow brought to an end to be replaced by a new SNP city government probably makes that word 'historic' appropriate."

She continued: "This city is bursting with potential and there is really an opportunity now for a bright new start and administration that will see Glasgow fulfil its potential.

"As someone who lives in Glasgow, who represents a Glasgow constituency, I'm really excited now about the opportunities that lie ahead."