Humza Yousaf has told independence supporters that they “must” back the SNP at the next general election.

The First Minister’s appeal came as his party formally launched their campaign for a vote that could still be months away.

Mr Yousaf said the election represented “an important moment for Scotland’s independence movement".

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His plea to Yes backers follows a slew of polls showing voters drifting away from the SNP, while support for leaving the UK remains steady.

A Redfield and Wilton survey at the end of November suggested Sir Keir Starmer’s party would take 36% of the vote, two points more than the SNP.

Though not a massive lead, Scotland’s electoral geography, particularly the concentration of Labour votes in the central belt, means that could result in a wipeout for Mr Yousaf’s party.

The poll showed support for independence remained at around the 50% mark.

The Herald:

During the speech, Mr Yousaf said there was little doubt Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives would lose.

He told the crowd of activists and candidates: “Keir Starmer doesn’t need Scotland to win the election.

“Scotland needs SNP MPs to make sure that we are not ignored and that Scotland’s voice is heard.”

He promised his MPs would “work constructively” with an incoming Labour government, particularly to stop them "backsliding further on their green investment" pledge and on child benefit. 
But he said Sir Keir would use every vote for a Labour candidate in Scotland “as a vote against independence".

“He will argue that every vote for Labour is a vote of confidence in Westminster control,” Mr Yousaf said.

“So if you believe decisions about Scotland should be taken in Scotland – if you believe in independence - then you must vote for the SNP.

“If you want to see an independent Scotland, you have to get out and vote for it.

“It is up to us in the SNP to win your support for that cause – and that is what we intend to do.”

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Many of the party’s MPs and some candidates selected so far were in the auditorium in Oran Mor in Glasgow’s west end for the speech, including SNP Westminster deputy leader Mhairi Black.

The Herald:

The MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South - who has already said she will be standing down - infuriated colleagues last week when she suggested they were too “comfortable” at Westminster.

“I've seen folk who you would have thought would have been the first one marching to the border with a claymore but now absolutely love being in London. I wouldn't have expected that," she told Times Radio.

Speaking to journalists after the speech, Mr Yousaf was asked why independence supporters should back the SNP when a senior party figure thinks her colleagues are too comfortable at Westminster.

“Every single SNP MP is working to get themselves out of a job because they want independence. It's pretty simple. Keir Starmer is going to be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

“This is not a marginal election here. So actually the people of Scotland have a choice.

“You can either vote for Labour MPs who are going to stand up for Starmer or you get to vote for SNP MPs who are going to stand up for Scotland, make sure our voice is heard.”

Asked to explain exactly how a vote for the SNP was a vote for achieving independence, the First Minister told reporters: “The way we achieve that is making sure that independence is very firmly on the table.

“Let's make no doubt about it. The independence cause is winning when the SNP is winning. It's taken off the table, of course, when those parties who oppose independence say that they've got a mandate for further Westminster control.”

“It's as simple as that,” he added. “If the SNP is not winning, and I don't hypothecate on anything other than winning, but if that is the case that we're not, then of course those who oppose independence will say that's a mandate for further Westminster control.”

The Herald:

Asked if he would stand down as leader if the SNP fails to secure a majority, the First Minister said he was “hypothecating on winning elections not losing elections".

Scottish Tory chairman Craig Hoy said the First Minister was showing "utter contempt" for voters.

He said: “It’s clear that Humza Yousaf intends to spend from now until polling day sticking his fingers in his ears and repeating: ‘Independence, independence, independence’ in a desperate bid to shore up his feuding, scandal-ridden party’s dwindling base.

“That shows the SNP’s utter contempt for the Scottish public, who want and expect politicians to focus on what matters to them – including economic growth and public services."

Scottish Labour deputy leader Dame Jackie Baillie said the speech was "nothing more than another desperate attempt to reset the SNP’s failing political strategy".

She added: “From talking down the influence that Scottish voters have to desperately moving the electoral goalposts, it is clear that the SNP is in trouble.

“Whether the SNP and the Tories like it or not, change can come to Scotland in 2024."