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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will suffer over their “cowardly” stance on the UK’s economic relationship with the EU, the SNP’s Westminster leader has warned.
Stephen Flynn said the “chickens will come home to roost” as he accused the Mr Sunak and Sir Keir of being “too afraid” to face the “real damage” of Brexit.
The MP for Aberdeen South said it was “wishful thinking on the part of unionists” to suggest any weakening of the independence cause from Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announced departure, adding “if they think the SNP is waiting to go quietly into the night, they’ve got another think coming”.
The next generation in the party, he said, “want to drive things forward now”.
Speaking to the PA news agency about the UK’s relationship with the EU, he said: “All roads lead there, but the Prime Minister and the contender for prime minister don’t want to talk about it, despite of course the obvious benefits it would bring in the immediate term and I think on this issue in particular Keir Starmer has been found wanting and quite badly.”
He added: “What they’re ignoring is the real damage that it’s causing to the economy and that’s particularly the case in Scotland.”
Mr Flynn spoke about staff shortages in the public and private sectors, adding: “They’re being cowardly, they’re too afraid to take on the reality of the situation and be honest with the public.
“I don’t think that does them any favours and I think the chickens will come home to roost before the general election in that regard.”
Ahead of Jeremy Hunt’s spring Budget next week, Mr Flynn said the Chancellor “doesn’t just need to freeze energy bills, he needs to cut them” adding that Scotland was “fuel poor” under “Westminster’s watch”.
Looking at the SNP’s stance on scrapping the non-dom tax status, expanding the windfall tax, increasing public sector pay and energy bill assistance, he said: “It’s almost like Labour have copied a lot of the successful policies of the Scottish Government.”
He said: “The big chasm exists between ourselves and Labour when it comes to the EU. The most obvious way to grow the economy is to rejoin the single market and customs union.”
His party’s priority, he said, was about ensuring Scotland is “in a position to grow our economy, but also to protect households from the worst of the cost-of-living crisis”.
He said: “There needs to be immediate action on energy bills to protect households,” adding: “That’s why we’re saying that the Chancellor doesn’t just need to freeze energy bills, he needs to cut them because the damage it’s doing to people in Scotland is real and it’s impacting people on a daily basis.”
On growth, he added: “There’s a very simple answer to this. Keir Starmer is afraid to say it, there’s no chance Rishi Sunak will say it, although he did, he kind of let it slip last week in relation to the NI Protocol and they need to be in discussions with the EU about rejoining the single market, that’s what businesses want to see.”
He added: “We need to see the Government take action in terms of protecting benefits and pensions in line with inflation, that’s hugely important as well.”
Current Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes faces Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and former Scottish Government minister Ash Regan in the race to succeed Nicola Sturgeon.
On the SNP leadership contest in Holyrood, Mr Flynn said: “I’ve not actually declared who I’m going to back for the leadership. I don’t know if I will necessarily reveal. I think it’s important that the party members are able to have a fair and frank discussion on these things.”
To those unionists welcoming Ms Sturgeon’s exit he said: “I think that’s wishful thinking on the part of unionists.
“Now if they think the SNP is waiting to go quietly into the night, they’ve got another think coming, because there’s a numerous group of folk of my age and around it, the next generation as we’re often called, who want to drive things forward now and I actually think utilising the experience and wisdom of many of our established parliamentarians.”
He added: “When you look at the polls, if you’re under the age of 30, if you’re under the age of 40, the chances are you support independence and that’s something which the unionists will not be able to break, because people of my age and my ilk and my generation have known nothing but a Scottish Parliament and we want that Scottish Parliament to have full powers.”
On securing independence, he said: “In terms of the strategy for independence, I don’t think anything should necessarily be off the table at this moment.
“I’m not going to seek to tie the hands of a future leader of the party in relation to where we should or shouldn’t go, but what I do want us to do is focus heavily on the why.
“Why is independence important and then the process will come with that.”