Scottish independence referendum is designed to distract from SNP's shocking mismanagement of Scotland – Ian Murray MP

It didn’t take long for Nicola Sturgeon’s latest ploy to be blown apart.

Although the source of the nationalists’ humiliation was somewhat unexpected: Deputy First Minister John Swinney himself. Bewilderingly, he claimed on the radio that winning 30 out of the 59 Scottish seats in a general election would be enough to unilaterally declare independence.

Naturally, he backtracked a few hours later, but the debacle proves that SNP ministers are simply making things up as they go along. For them, it’s all about keeping the distraction of the constitutional debate going.

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There are two things the SNP fears: a focus on its disastrous record in office; and a Labour government. These twin fears are the entire basis of Sturgeon’s announcement this week.

It’s no coincidence that she spoke in Holyrood on the very day that Scotland’s cancer treatment waiting time performance fell to a new record low. The standard has not been met since the end of 2012, causing untold pain and suffering.

Also on the same day, figures showed A&E performance falling once again. Appallingly, the crisis left 2,262 people waiting more than eight hours and 793 waiting more than 12 hours.

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Also on the same day (you might detect a theme here), a new annual report on delayed discharge showed rates soaring by 51 per cent, and official statistics revealed sexual crimes had risen by 15 per cent to their highest point on record, and non-sexual violent crimes increased by 12 per cent.

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The next general election will be a choice between the Tories and Labour, not a proxy Scottish independence referendum (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

And also on the same day, a parliamentary debate on Scotland’s disgraceful drug-deaths crisis was postponed because space had to be found for Sturgeon’s independence diatribe.

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Politics is about priorities, and the SNP’s priorities have been laid bare for all to see.

What an unforgiveable insult to all those on hospital waiting lists, battling cancer, struggling with drug addition, anxious about paying their bills, or trying to come to terms with being a victim of crime.

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But as well as seeking to distract from their failings in office, SNP politicians also want to do everything they can to prevent a Labour government.

It suits them just fine for Boris Johnson to remain where he is. His catastrophic premiership allows the SNP to continue its grievance campaign and paint a misleading picture of England.

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The only solution, the Nationalists claim, is to walk away, abandon anyone who lives in England to their fate.

I have more confidence in the people of Scotland than Nicola Sturgeon does. I believe most share a desire to improve lives in every part of the UK and for governments to do as they say, and what the FM said at the last election was Covid recovery.

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And there’s only one way to do that – by electing a Labour Government.

The SNP wants to treat the next general election as a game, turning it into a ‘de facto’ referendum – even though government minister Lorna Slater didn’t know what this meant when asked to explain it on the radio.

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In reality, the next general election is about a whole range of policy areas with one ultimate question – do you want a Tory government or a Labour government?

That is what will be on the ballot paper, not Nicola Sturgeon’s pretend referendum.

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Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South