Scottish voters warned of consequences of No vote

Westminster will “turn the screw” on Scotland if independence is rejected, SNP conference told

The British government will “turn the screw” on Scotland if next year’s independence referendum is rejected, voters were warned yesterday.

Marking a significant change in the campaign's rhetoric, Scottish deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon, speaking at the Scottish National Party (SNP) conference, warned Scots to be "under no illusion" that London would exert its influence if it could.

Differences on health policies between Scotland and the rest of the UK are “causing frustration” in London and not just among Conservatives, she said.

“That should sound alarm bells about what might happen in the event of a No vote,” said Ms Sturgeon. “Not more but less” devolution would result if Scots reject the referendum, she said.


“Do not ever let anyone pull the wool over your eyes about the consequences of a No vote. They are clear and they are real. Scotland’s social security system will be dismantled. Scotland’s public services and universal benefits will be under threat. Scotland’s budget will be cut. Only independence will allow us to chart a different course,” she continued.

“Our actions are softening the impact of Tory policies. But we can’t stop these policies in their tracks. Only independence can do that,” she told party delegates gathered in Perth.

So far, the SNP and the Yes, Scotland movement have struggled to increase support for independence in the September 2014 referendum, although up to 40 per cent of voters are still undecided.

The SNP government’s rejection of London-led changes to the National Health Service, which give private health companies a greater role, is popular with Scottish voters. Equally, there is support for free prescriptions, elderly care and tuition fees – which have not been available in England in recent years.

'UK-wide approach to health'
"A UK-wide approach to health would be the worst thing that could ever happen to the Scottish NHS," said the deputy first minister, who has played an increasingly prominent role in the SNP's independence campaign. Until now the pro-independence camp has accused those advocating staying in the UK of running a campaign of fear to frighten Scots from voting to quit. Now, however, the SNP is heightening its own rhetoric, warning that the Conservatives-Liberal Democrats coalition is "destroying" the UK's welfare system. Westminster is "pulling the rug from the poorest", said Ms Sturgeon. Most Scots regardless of party allegiance, oppose housing benefit changes that penalise people deemed to have too many bedrooms, she continued.

Meanwhile, first minister Alex Salmond will today tell his party that a Yes vote next year will be "an act of national self-confidence and self-belief".

Conscious, perhaps, that the independence campaign is seen to be too dominated by the SNP, Mr Salmond will praise the Scottish parliament’s record since its re-establishment in 1999.

“This central question of who should be taking decisions is not an academic argument. It is a commonsense argument based on our experience,” he will say.

However, the SNP is determined to separate the Labour Party from supporters who have been loyal to the party in the past – since these are the people who could hold the key to success or failure in the referendum.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is Ireland and Britain Editor with The Irish Times