Scotland's Conservative Party leader calls bid for independence vote reckless

January 31, 2021 7:07 PM EST

FILE PHOTO: Douglas Ross, newly announced Scottish Conservative leader, talks to media in Forres, Scotland, Britain August 5, 2020. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne/File Photo


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LONDON(Reuters) - The leader of the Scottish Conservative Party accused Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on Monday of putting her "party before pandemic", saying the timing of her plans to hold a second independence vote was reckless.

Sturgeon said this month she was hoping a strong performance by her Scottish National Party (SNP) in an election to the Scottish parliament in May would give her a mandate to hold a second referendum on independence from the United Kingdom.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will not approve a second referendum.

It is still not clear whether the May election will take place. Scotland, like the rest of the United Kingdom, is struggling to control the spread of COVID-19.

"We are living under a national lockdown and in the middle of a global pandemic ... It is the duty of all politicians to come together and focus on the national interest in a time of crisis," Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said in a speech due shown on Facebook.

"There is no getting away from it, the timing of this plan is reckless and irresponsible. She has put party before pandemic, and risked damaging trust in the government when it is needed most," he said, adding that there would be a "renewed push to stop them in their tracks".

The SNP has said it will "vigorously oppose" any legal challenge from the British government.

Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom in 2014 but opinion polls suggest many in the nation now favour independence. Some feel Scotland was taken out of the European Union against its will by the British government.

Unlike in England and Wales, a majority of voters in Scotland backed staying in the EU during the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Johnson's Conservatives, much like the main opposition Labour Party, have a tough task to win back voters in Scotland. On a visit to Scotland last week, he told nationalists to stop talking "endlessly" about a new independence referendum.

Ross said he was challenging Sturgeon to a debate on the future of Scotland if she did not back away from her referendum plans.

"We will need to have an election this year, we do not need to have a divisive referendum," he said.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Edmund Blair)



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