Prime Minister Theresa May accused Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of sacrificing living standards in Scotland in her pursuit of a breakaway from the U.K., in a pointed attack as the Scottish National Party edges toward demanding a second independence referendum.
“I don’t think people want a referendum today,” May said Thursday in a television interview with BBC Scotland. “To me politics isn’t a game. Politics is about people’s lives, it’s about delivering for people on the issues that really matter to them on a day-to-day basis, and I can’t help but feel that the SNP has a tunnel vision about independence.”
With Britain’s Brexit negotiations set to dominate the political agenda for at least the next two years, May is trying to avert another referendum after the Scots voted to remain in the U.K. in 2014. May declined to give a yes or no answer when asked if she would grant Sturgeon a second independence referendum.
In last year’s plebiscite on EU membership, Scots overwhelmingly voted to remain in the bloc, while the U.K. as a whole voted to leave. That’s given Sturgeon the fodder she needs to demand another independence vote — and she’s pledged to do so unless the prime minister softens her plan for leaving the EU and its single market.
Sturgeon said May has shown no flexibility or willingness to adapt her position in response to Scottish concerns about her strategy for Brexit. London should not be permitted to dictate the terms of Scotland’s future, she said.
“The Scottish government’s approach since the EU referendum has been to offer compromise and to seek consensus at every turn -– in return the U.K. government’s has so far been one of obstinacy and intransigence,” Sturgeon said in an emailed statement Thursday. “Where we have spoken the language of consensus and cooperation, theirs has been the language of Westminster diktat.”
Scotland voted by 55 percent to 45 percent against independence in 2014 and that division roughly stayed the same through the end of last year. A BMG poll for the Glasgow-based Herald newspaper carried out this year found the gap in favor of remaining within the U.K. had narrowed to two percentage points.
“What people want is for the SNP government to get on with dealing with the issues they want to see addressed on a day-to-day basis; issues like the state of the economy, reforming schools,” May said. “They don’t want a referendum, they want the SNP government to get on with the day job.”
May’s remarks to the BBC foreshadowed a speech she’s due to give at the Scottish Conservative Party Conference in Glasgow on Friday. She’ll accuse Sturgeon of sacrificing living standards and services in the interests of breaking away from Britain, and say she is “optimistic” about the future as Britain approaches Brexit.
“Politics is not a game, and the management of devolved public services in Scotland is too important to be neglected,” May will say, according to extracts released by her office. “As prime minister of the United Kingdom, I am just as concerned that young people in Dundee get a good start in life and receive the education they need to reach their full potential as I am about young people in Doncaster and Dartford.”
May will highlight the record of Sturgeon’s administration, saying that the SNP’s “obsession” with independence is harming the lives of people in the country. She’s due to say Sturgeon has neglected the interests of children, the sick and victims of crime during her time at the helm of the semi-autonomous Scottish government. Declining standards in education are “a scandal” and the direct result of 10 years of the SNP being in power, she will tell delegates.
“Scottish schools, which once led the world in setting the highest standards of attainment, are now outperformed in every category by schools in England, Northern Ireland, Estonia and Poland,” the prime minister will say. “And just this week we have learned that the SNP government has delayed its planned education bill, such is their obsession with the single issue of independence.”