SNP would have mandate for independence even after an election wipeout, says Swinney

John Swinney, the SNP leader, at the party's manifesto launch
John Swinney, the SNP leader, at the party's manifesto launch - JEFF J MITCHELL/GETTY IMAGES

The SNP will have a mandate for another independence referendum even if it suffers an election wipeout, John Swinney has insisted as he unveiled his party’s manifesto.

The prospectus said Mr Swinney would have the democratic right to open “immediate negotiations” with the UK Government for another referendum if the party wins a majority of Scotland’s 57 seats.

Speaking at the launch event in Edinburgh, the First Minister said the SNP achieving this benchmark of 29 seats would “intensify the pressure to secure Scottish independence.”

But he repeatedly refused to accept that Scots would have voted to remain in the UK if his party failed to achieve its target, and a majority of seats was won by the Unionist parties.

Mr Swinney insisted that the SNP would still retain a separate mandate for independence from the 2021 Holyrood election, despite it falling short of gaining a majority in that contest.

He also said there would be no guarantee that an independent Scotland would succeed.

‘Success would not be guaranteed’

“Of course, an independent Scotland, like all countries, would face challenges. Success would not be guaranteed,” he said.

“That would be determined by our own decisions as a country and the choices we make. But when we look at independent European countries similar to Scotland there are grounds for optimism and hope.”

Mr Swinney’s refusal to accept that Scots would have voted to remain in the UK if his party failed to achieve its target followed a series of polls showing the SNP is on course to lose well over half of the 48 seats it won in the 2019 general election, with Labour again having the largest number of Scottish MPs.

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, accused the SNP of focusing on “constitutional wrangling” rather than “what people care about day to day”. Both he and Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, have rejected authorising a second independence referendum.

The SNP manifesto launch was a much smaller event than in previous elections, with the party struggling to raise funds while it is under the shadow of a police investigation into its finances.

Peter Murrell, the party’s former chief executive and Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, has been charged with embezzlement. The manifesto itself was also much shorter at only 28 pages, about 20 fewer than in 2019.

The first page contained the words in block capitals: “Vote SNP for Scotland to become an independent country.” It later claimed that leaving the UK was necessary to address the cost of living crisis and reduce poverty.

The document argued Scots should vote SNP as “it is more important than ever for the mandate won in 2021 to be respected. At this election, we are asking you to vote for an independent Scotland.

“If the SNP wins a majority of Scottish seats, the Scottish Government will be empowered to begin immediate negotiations with the UK Government to give democratic effect to Scotland becoming an independent country.”

Mr Swinney clarified that his preferred way of doing this was a rerun of the 2014 referendum, with Westminster handing Holyrood the powers to stage another vote.

The manifesto argued that the powers should be permanently transferred, allowing the SNP to stage repeated referendums until it won one, a scenario previously described by Unionists as a “neverendum”.

Unveiling the manifesto in Edinburgh with a speech that mentioned independence 14 times, the First Minister said: “We must never lose faith in the power of the democratic voice of the people of Scotland.

“In 2021 they voted for a Scottish Parliament with a clear majority for independence and for a referendum. That democratic choice must be respected. At this election we have the opportunity to reinforce the case for Scotland becoming an independent country.”

However, he was challenged four times whether he would accept that independence had been rejected by the electorate if the SNP fails to win a majority of seats.

‘Manifesto can be summed up in one word’

The First Minister argued that him answering the question would be akin to “predicting the outcome of the election” and repeatedly referred to the 2021 result, in which the SNP won 40.3 per cent of the regional vote share.

Craig Hoy, the Scottish Tory chairman, said: “The SNP’s entire manifesto can be summed up in one word – independence. The first page is dedicated solely to splitting up Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom.

“None of Scotland’s urgent priorities will get any focus from the SNP. For John Swinney, independence comes before the economy, the NHS and everything else.”

The respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said the manifesto called for UK-wide spending to be “topped up”, with the cost met by tax rises, more borrowing and higher economic growth from the UK rejoining the EU.

David Phillips, the economic think tank’s associate director, said: “However, in its call for Scottish independence, the SNP ignores the potential hit to economic growth from leaving the UK, and the big fiscal challenges an independent Scotland would immediately have to confront.”

NHS

The SNP has demanded that the UK Government pumps an extra £10 billion annually into the NHS. It claims this would “address rampant inflationary pressures and improve performance”.

In addition, it wants the UK Government to match the more generous pay deals the devolved government has agreed with NHS workers to prevent strikes, but is now causing it financial difficulties.

This would cost a further £6 billion across the UK, which would result in a total boost to the Scottish Government’s budget of £1.6 billion.

The party is also saying it would introduce a “Keep the NHS in Public Hands” Bill, which it says would protect the health service.

EU

The SNP wants to “reverse the damage of Brexit and re-enter the single market restoring free movement for EU citizens.”

However, it appears to concede that the UK will not be rejoining the EU, instead emphasising a “vision for an independent Scotland in the EU”.

The manifesto states that Brexit has been a disaster for Scotland and wiped billions from the Scottish economy.

However, there is no detail about how, even if Scotland was to achieve independence, it would meet membership requirements.

Defence

The SNP’s flagship defence policy is to scrap the Trident nuclear deterrent.

It says the money saved from retiring Britain’s nuclear submarines could instead be spent on “conventional defence and public services”.

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