First Minister Humza Yousaf has branded the Labour Party a “replica” of the Conservatives after a speech by leader Sir Keir Starmer.
Speaking at the Progressive Britain conference on Saturday, the Labour leader compared his efforts to reform the party to former prime minister Sir Tony Blair’s symbolic rewriting of Clause Four “on steroids”.
But he has been criticised for comments briefed to the press ahead of the speech, where he said “I don’t care” if he sounded conservative when committing to preserving “precious things in our way of life”.
Opponents have accused Sir Keir of pushing his party to the right in a bid to pick up disaffected Tory voters.
Tweeting after the speech, Yousaf said: “This week, I accused Labour of being a pale imitation of the Tories, I was wrong, they are a replica.
“Whether it is the blue Tories or red Tories in Number 10, they will continue policies that are harming Scotland. We need independence to protect our people.”
Electioneering among the parties at Holyrood has ramped up in the past week after the local elections in England, with projections suggesting Labour could fall short of an overall majority if the results are mirrored.
Yousaf’s sentiment was echoed by one of his senior ministers, who said she was not sure who in Scotland Sir Keir was pitching his party to ahead of a general election next year.
Speaking to the PA news agency at a teaching union conference in Aberdeen, Scottish education secretary Jenny Gilruth said: “I am absolutely shocked with the Labour leader in that regard – I’m sure Anas Sarwar will be shocked.
“He will be having to mop this up in the chamber in the coming week and I can’t imagine that’s the place that he wants to take the party to.”
She added: “When he says this, he’s courting Conservative votes in England, he’s not courting people who vote SNP in Scotland, or people who vote Labour, I have to say.
“I don’t know who he is courting, other than people in the Conservative Party that may be fed up with Rishi Sunak – that’s not what I thought the Labour Party was about.”
The minister added that there had “undoubtedly” been a shift to the right from Labour under the current leadership.
Gilruth, who was promoted to the post of education secretary by Yousaf six weeks ago, acknowledged it had been a “challenging time” for the SNP but vowed that her party would “fight for every vote” at the next election.
The SNP has been riven with internal turmoil in recent months, with a police probe into its finances resulting in the arrest of former chief executive, and Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell and then treasurer Colin Beattie – both of whom were released without charge, pending further investigation.