Warning To PM As SNP Conference Starts

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has issued a stark warning to Westminster that Scots must not be denied the "right to choose'' the country's future in a second independence referendum.

The Scottish Government minister insisted that the "kind of country we want to be'' was at stake as the SNP administration in Edinburgh and the Conservative government in Westminster appear set for collision over the constitution.

While First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has outlined plans to stage a fresh vote on independence between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, Theresa May intervened on Thursday to say "now is not the time'' for such a ballot.

The Prime Minister's comment prompted the SNP leader to claim blocking a second referendum would be a "democratic outrage''.

The row erupted ahead of the SNP spring conference in Aberdeen, which is expected to be attended by some 2,500 party activists.

Mr Swinney said the event was taking place "at a time when Scotland is approaching a hugely important crossroads''.

He stated: "We didn't ask to be here but we know that at stake is the kind of country we want to be.

"The contrast between the SNP Government and the Tory Westminster government could not be starker.

"In Scotland we're giving taxpayers the best deal in the UK and investing in public services while the Tories want to give a big tax cut to the richest and cut frontline services for everyone else.

"The SNP Government has made clear we will do whatever we can to protect the tolerant, inclusive and prosperous Scotland that is so important to us.

"We have made clear that before people make a choice on Scotland's future we will set out the challenges and opportunities of independence.

"People should not be denied the right to choose and allow a hard Brexit to be imposed on Scotland against our will.''

While the conference will be dominated by independence, Mr Swinney said the event would also highlight the SNP's key priorities "education, the economy and our public services''.

With Scottish local government elections taking place in May, the Deputy First Minister stated: "The choice facing voters this May is between SNP-led councils investing in communities and local services, or Tories putting cuts before all else - propped up by the Labour party.''

He argued: "Every SNP vote will be a vote to protect these vital services we all depend on.

"All our candidates are dedicated local campaigners and believe passionately in protecting local services from these Tory cuts.

"The SNP is standing up for Scotland - will always stand up for Scotland - and will work every day to build a better country.''

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