With Scottish Parliament elections due to take place in May, the Liberal Democrat leader hit out at the government for taking the UK out of the European Union in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, complaining that Boris Johnson’s response to “the worst economic downturn in 300 years is to make it more difficult to trade”.
Sir Ed added that Brexit had made it “more difficult to do business, more difficult to keep your job”, claiming that “the Tories seem determined to make us smaller, poorer and more isolated”.
Of those who campaigned to leave the EU, he said: “They didn’t write that on the side of their bus.”
And in Scotland, this situation could be worsened, he claimed, by a “hapless SNP government who would impose independence - Brexit 2.0”.
In a speech to the Scottish Liberal Democrat spring conference, he contrasted his party’s plans with those of Nicola Sturgeon, adding: “Liberal Democrats want to put recovery first. The SNP want to break up first.
“Liberal Democrats have plans to recover the health and jobs of the Scottish people, SNP plans would harm the NHS and hit jobs across Scotland.”
He argued that voters care more about the NHS and care services than they do about the constitution, but said his party should work with leading figures from Labour to push for a more federal UK.
With former Lib Dem party leader Sir Menzies Campbell taking a “fresh look” at the party’s policies on federalism, he said there was now “momentum behind our efforts to make the UK work for everyone”.
“Keir Starmer has recognised that he needs to get serious about how the UK works. Gordon Brown, too, has recognised that it’s time to fix the foundations that our house of nations stands upon. These are allies we should work with.”
Scottish Lib Dem Willie Rennie has previously vowed his MSPs will oppose holding a second independence referendum “at any point” int the next Holyrood term.
A spokesman for the Scottish constitution secretary, Mike Russell, hit back at the suggestions, saying: “Independence is the opposite of Brexit, and will allow Scotland to flourish as an equal member of the EU.
“That is why support for independence is at record high levels, and why it is becoming the settled will of the people, who can see that the Lib Dems have joined Labour and the Tories in becoming a pro-Brexit party.
“Allowing Westminster to make decisions for Scotland directly threatens key public services like the NHS, which could be on the table in post-Brexit trade deals. Independence will mean we take decisions for ourselves and ensure we protect our health service.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies