SNP plans for Scottish independence would be a “Brexit 2.0” that would harm the NHS and cost jobs, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has insisted.
With Scottish Parliament elections due to take place in May, the Lib Dem said voters were now “weeks from an election that could determine the fate of the United Kingdom”.
He hit out at the UK Government for taking the UK out of the European Union in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, complaining that the response from Boris Johnson’s Conservative Government 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”.
Hitting out that those who campaigned to leave the EU, he commented: “They didn’t write that on the side of their bus.”
However, he said that in Scotland this situation could be worsened by a “hapless SNP government who would impose independence – Brexit 2.0”
Contrasting his party’s plans with those of Nicola Sturgeon, he added: “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.”
While he used his speech to the Scottish Liberal Democrat spring conference to argue that voters care more about the NHS and care services than they do about the constitution, Sir Ed added that his party should work with leading figures from Labour to push for a more federal UK.
With former UK leader Sir Menzies Campbell taking a “fresh look” at the party’s policies on federalism, the Lib Dem said there was now “momentum behind our efforts to make the UK work for everyone”.
He said: “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.”
With policies such as this, he added, that the Liberal Democrats “can offer an alternative to the corrupt, incompetent Conservative Government in Westminster and the tired, divided and dysfunctional SNP Government in Edinburgh”.
He said: “With federalism, we can make the whole UK work better.”
Sir Ed added: “As a lifelong liberal I want to see a genuine partnership of nations and regions, that gives individuals more control over their own lives.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Constitution Secretary, Mike Russell, hit back at the Lib Dem’s 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.”