Nicola Sturgeon has insisted the general election has nothing to do with her demand for a second independence referendum after opinion polls showed the SNP bleeding thousands of Scottish votes and up to ten seats to the Tories.
The First Minister attempted to decouple Scottish separation from the election campaign by insisting the result would have no impact on whether she succeeds in breaking up Britain.
Despite the constitution dominating Scottish politics, she ignored independence and her claim there should be a rerun of the 2014 referendum during her keynote speech to the STUC conference in Aviemore.
Instead she launched an outspoken attack of allegations of Tory election fraud during the 2015 campaign, suggesting they could have bought the contest and claiming Theresa May had called a snap election before criminal prosecutions could be brought.
But the Conservatives said Ms Sturgeon wanted to use the election to “boost her flagging case for a referendum” and her denial was a “a sure fire way of knowing it has everything to do with independence.”
The First Minister’s denial came after two polls at the weekend showed a remarkable surge of support for the Scottish Tories, with one putting their rating at 33 per cent, 18 points higher than the general election two years ago.
This would be enough for them to take 12 seats, including 10 from the SNP. Even Angus Robertson, the Nationalists’ Westminster leader, would be in danger of losing his Moray constituency.
Thousands of Unionist voters backed the SNP in the 2015 election, which occurred only months after Scotland rejected independence when it was assumed the matter was settled for the time being.
Asked what she would say to Unionist voters who are now abandoning her party for the Tories, Ms Sturgeon said: “People who want to make sure Scotland has got strong voices against the Conservatives in this election need to vote for the SNP because that’s what this election above all else is about.
“The election won’t decide whether or not Scotland becomes independent. We got a mandate for a referendum in the election last year so this is about Scotland’s voice is heard and Scotland’s interests are protected.”
Speaking ahead of her STUC address, Ms Sturgeon tried to downplay expectations about how well the SNP will do, saying that the 2015 result when her party won 56 out of 59 seats was an “extraordinary election.”
She said the Nationalists will win the election in Scotland if the SNP gets more seats and votes than any other party as that was the “traditional measure.”
But Miles Briggs, a Scottish Tory MSP who is standing Edinburgh South West, said: “There is one cast-iron rule about the SNP: whenever it says something has got nothing to do with independence, it's a sure fire way of knowing it has everything to do with independence.
“Just like she did in the after the Brexit vote last year, Nicola Sturgeon wants to try to use this election to boost her flagging case for a referendum. Everybody knows that.”
The First Minister later used her speech to claim Mrs May had called the election before the election fraud scandal “catches up with her”. Fourteen police forces have sent files to the Crown Prosecution Service over allegations Tory candidates broke spending limits in 2015 thanks to the party battle bus.
She said: “Whatever else happens in this election we should not allow the Tory party to escape the accountability for any misdeamours that may have led to them buying the last general election.”
A Conservative Party spokesman said: “CCHQ has always taken the view that its nationally directed battlebus campaign – a highly-publicised and visible activity with national branding – was part of its national return, and it would have no reason not to declare it as such, given that the Party was £2 million below the national spending threshold.
“The Electoral Commission report makes clear that our interpretation of the guidance was correct, stating: ‘The Commission has found no evidence to suggest that the Party had funded the Battlebus2015 campaign with the intention that it would promote or procure the electoral success of candidates’"
He added: "The ongoing investigations relate to national spending by CCHQ and the national Party will continue to co-operate with the police and other authorities so that the matter can be resolved as soon as possible.”