Another referendum on Scotland’s independence could be back on the political agenda within a year, Nicola Sturgeon has admitted.
The SNP leader, dropping her guard during the televised debate in Edinburgh, hinted that her party could seek another vote on whether Scotland should leave the Union soon after 2016.
Her predecessor Alex Salmond insisted the referendum was a “once in a generation” event.
During the live broadcast that featured the four leaders of Scotland’s main political parties, Ms Sturgeon insisted that the general election would have no influence on whether another referendum was held. But asked what would happen after 2016’s Scottish parliamentary election, she replied: “That’s another matter.”
When the studio audience jeered, she said the decision would ultimately rest with Scottish voters.
The answer may haunt Ms Sturgeon over the remaining weeks of the general election campaign. So far her party’s strategy has been to stress its “friendship” with the rest of the UK by painting a picture of a “progressive” alliance at Westminster.
Her answer will be seized upon by Labour in Scotland.
Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, had earlier sought to reassure No voters in the referendum that the issue would not be revived. She said: “No deals with the people who would break up Britain”.
Ms Sturgeon was forced to fend off attacks from her Labour counterpart Jim Murphy, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie and Ms Davidson.
In pictures: Experts' predictions for the General Election - 04/04/15
In pictures: Experts' predictions for the General Election - 04/04/15
1/10 Andrew Hawkins (ComRes)
“My position has moved: no party can win a majority now. I have also shifted in favour of the Conservatives winning more seats than Labour. That, however, assumes that the current Tory momentum is maintained and that they don’t do anything daft or careless between now and polling day. But the underlying pattern is distinctly in their favour.” (In January he predicted Labour would be the largest party, possibly with a small majority.)
2/10 Joe Twyman (YouGov)
“Probably: a ‘well hung parliament’. Possibly: Conservatives winning most votes and seats, thanks, in part, to SNP gains at Labour’s expense. Speculation: Conservatives unable to form another coalition, not having enough seats with just the Lib Dems, but Labour better placed with SNP and Lib Dems – albeit informally.” (In January Twyman said: “Gun to my head? Labour minority government.”)
3/10 Ben Page (Ipsos MORI)
“Stuck in ‘too close to call’ mode still, made harder by the way votes translate into seats in Parliament. If the parties remain neck and neck, Labour might just end up with more seats, but not a majority. We still have weeks of campaign to go and no clear picture for the marginals, where the polling that is being done suggests a lot of local variations that have plenty of potential to surprise us in May.” (Last time Page said it was a “mug’s game” to make predictions four months before an election.)
4/10 Rick Nye (Populus)
“Since January, the Conservatives have clearly improved on the polls relative to Labour to the point where I’d expect the Conservatives to win the most seats as well as the most votes 7 May. What’s less clear is whether the Conservatives would be able to form a government. (In January Nye expected a hung parliament in which Labour would win most seats but not necessarily most votes.)
5/10 Nick Moon (GfK)
“Something would need to change dramatically for there to be any chance of a one-party majority government. My guess: the Tories will be largest party, but some way short of forming even a two-party coalition. A Labour minority government seems most likely, but I won’t be putting money on it.” (Prediction unchanged since January.)
6/10 Damian Lyons Lowe (Survation)
“On Survation’s public polling, Ed Miliband remains the person most likely to form the next government. However, he’s far from the workable majority figure required . Friday 8 May will remain a day of deals and discussions with other parties to form the next government.” (In January he expected Labour to be the largest party in a hung parliament, by 40-50 seats over the Conservatives.)
7/10 Michelle Harrison (TNS)
“It’s less a case of who wins but who can scrape over the line. Labour polls better on the NHS; the Tories poll better on the economy. Can any claim additional territory from the other over the remaining weeks? Probably not. But our polls show that the public thinks the Tories will be the largest party. In the absence of a firm lead, I’ll go with the wisdom of crowds.”
8/10 James Endersby (Opinium Research)
“Despite the recent weekly statistical ties, we’ve witnessed the faint whispers of movement in the air and a slow, unsteady and shaky sway towards the Tories. How this shift plays out over the coming weeks obviously depends on a huge number of factors. My call, if this holds fast and momentum gathers: Conservatives 288, Labour 267, SNP 45, Lib Dems 24, Plaid Cymru 3, Ukip 3, Greens 2.” (In January he put Labour on 320 seats.)
9/10 Martin Boon (ICM)
“I’m tempted to say: how should I know? I’m just a pollster. But I feel that Miliband may just have raised himself from the grave, so I’ll add a couple to where I had them before. Everyone else largely becalmed although, I see the Greens disappearing from view and Ukip sliding a touch. Tories 34 per cent, Lab 32 per cent, Lib Dems 14 per cent, Ukip 12 per cent. I don’t trust any academic model that translates vote shares into seats, so a seat projection from this is a pure and simple guess, which is Labour to be touching 300 seats with the Tories just behind.” (In January Boon predicted Labour on 290 seats.)
10/10 Lord Ashcroft (Lord Ashcroft Polls)
He refuses to make predictions. “My polls are snapshots, not predictions.”
In one early clash, Mr Murphy tried to suggest that SNP voters would be better off simply voting Labour, by repeatedly asking Ms Sturgeon if she wanted Mr Miliband to be the next prime minister. She replied: “I don’t want David Cameron to be prime minister – I’m offering to help make Ed Miliband prime minister.” Mr Murphy retorted: “Nicola, we don’t need your help. What we need is people north and south of the border coming together to kick out an out-of-touch government.”
On the renewal of the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent, one of the key policy issues that divides the SNP from Labour, Ms Sturgeon said the 190 nations in the world that did not have nuclear weapons were no less safe.
She said her party’s rejection of Trident meant that Scotland – and the UK – would be able to “lead by example”.
Mr Murphy said that while he would like “a world free of nuclear weapons”, it would make no sense for Scotland to give them up only for the warheads to be stored in another part of the UK.
A hint of the difficulties Labour and the SNP could face if they try to reach agreement after 7 May, came during heated exchanges between Murphy and Sturgeon on future spending cuts.
Sturgeon said exchanges between the Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, and Murphy were “manufactured divisions” and accused Murphy of walking through the lobby in Westminster “hand in hand” with the Conservatives during last month’s debate on the budget.
Sturgeon told the audience that Labour were preparing for £30bn worth of cuts. “You cannot be anti-austerity and propose more cuts.”
Murphy’s attack received applause when he said, “You are entitled to your opinion, but not to your own facts.”
War of words: Leaders do battle
SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
“I’ve said to Ed Miliband and I’ll say to Jim Murphy, that if there is an anti-Tory majority in the House of Commons after the election, even if the Tories are the biggest party, we will work with Labour to keep David Cameron out of Downing Street.”
Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy
“Nicola, we don’t need your help. We need people north and south of the border… coming together to kick out an out-of-touch government.”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson
“I promise to fight head, heart, body and soul to honour the referendum vote and will not do any deal with a party that wants to break the Union.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie
“We have got the economy back on track, and we have done it fairly.”Reuse content