English people in Scotland are being made to feel like “strangers in their own homes” as a result of rising nationalist bigotry, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats has warned.
Willie Rennie, in his speech to his party’s virtual conference on Sunday, said that the pandemic was being used by some to “spread hate” and said he felt “uncomfortable” with “the growing anti-English sentiment in Scotland”.
He highlighted border protests in the summer in which masked demonstrators waved banners urging motorists crossing the border into Scotland to stay away.
Although Nicola Sturgeon condemned the protests, they came after she made claims about significantly lower virus prevalence rates in Scotland compared to England which the UK's statistics watchdog later said were not backed up by solid evidence.
Mr Rennie said: “I mean the people who jumped on the virus to stand at the border, and on the approach roads to airports, with their “go back to England" banner.
“I am calling this out. We reject the bogus use of science to spread hate. I will stand up for the right of people who have moved to Scotland from England not to be made to feel like strangers in their own home.”
Mr Rennie, the MSP for North East Fife, will lead his party into a Holyrood election for the second time next year.
In his address, he set out his vision for a "Third Way" alternative to Britain under Boris Johnson or independence, by reasserting his support for federalism.
"The United Kingdom has been around for 300 years,” he said. “Just imagine how difficult breaking it up would be.
"So let us not repeat the mistakes of Brexit with independence. Let's work with our neighbours - in Europe and the UK. Let's unite for progress. That's the third way."