Scotland’s First Minister is confident his party can win next year’s general election and any subsequent independence referendum the SNP can extract in a hung parliament.
Projections last week following the local elections in England suggested Labour could struggle to gain an overall majority at Westminster in the UK-wide vote expected next year, if the result was to be repeated, with the SNP keen to make clear its negotiating position in a hung parliament.
Over the weekend, the party’s deputy Westminster leader Mhairi Black said Labour would have to give up an independence referendum for SNP support after the election – a long held position for the party – while claiming her MPs would work to pull Labour to the left.
Mr Yousaf’s confidence comes after six weeks of turmoil at the top of his party, with former chief executive – and Nicola Sturgeon’s husband – Peter Murrell and then-treasurer Colin Beattie arrested in connection with a police probe into the SNP’s finances, along with the search of Mr Murrell and Ms Sturgeon’s home and party headquarters.
Speaking to the PA news agency during a visit to a community larder in Dundee on Monday, the First Minister said: “I’d be confident of both winning the general election and confident, of course, of winning an independence referendum.
“We have the arguments, the positive vision, even with all the real challenges the party has had over the last six weeks.
“I’m not going to pretend it’s been anything other than very, very difficult, maybe some of the most difficult weeks the SNP has faced, certainly in modern history.”
He added: “Even with that, support for independence, we know, is still by and large rock solid, and we’re going to continue to build on that.”
A recent poll by Redfield and Wilton, done towards the end of last month, suggested support for independence was around 45% – the same as the 2014 referendum.
The First Minister went on to say he was “pretty disturbed” by what he described as “lurching more and more to the right”, adding that the SNP could obtain the “prize” of an independence referendum, as well as “kicking the Tories out of Scotland”.
Asked about Labour’s steadfast refusal to countenance a deal with the SNP, the First Minister said: “I think what is said before a general election and in the midst of a campaign is very different when the realpolitik kicks in.
“I would work, frankly, with any progressive party to see the back of the Tories, that price for cooperating with Labour undoubtedly, from our perspective, would be demanding that Section 30, which is of course our right given our mandates that we’ve won, but it will also be to put firmly the progressive agenda front and centre of not just Scottish politics but UK politics.”
Alex Cole-Hamilton, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: “I think most Scots understand that even a decade on from the independence referendum, the SNP haven’t got a clue what to do about currency, pensions or borders. They’re as lax and haphazard as the Brexiteers.
“At least Humza Yousaf is being honest with the public when he spells out that any leverage he has will be focused towards breaking up the UK, rather than on improving public services.”