THE former SNP MP, George Kerevan, has accused Nicola Sturgeon of dangling the prospect of a second referendum as a distraction to stop independence supporters objecting to swingeing public sector cuts.

Writing in the latest issue of the Scottish Left Review, Mr Kerevan, now a journalist and economist, said “few people” believed the First Minister’s bid to hold a a vote on the constitution next October would “actually transpire”.

But, he added, it would “serve as a political cover to keep the pro-independence left in line while the SNP Government imposes swingeing real pay cuts in the public sector.

“For how can the independence left attack Nicola when she is demanding Boris grant a Section 30 order?”

Last month, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes published her Resource Spending Review, outlining government spending for the next four years.

In a bid to see off a projected £3.5 billion spending shortfall by 2026/27, she proposed a “reshape and refocus” in the public sector, including a shrinking of the workforce down to pre-Brexit, pre-pandemic levels.

The biggest loser in the review was local government whose funding was frozen for the rest of the parliament.

Budgets for the police, prisons, justice, universities and rural affairs are all set to fall by around 8 per cent while spending on enterprise, tourism and trade promotion is set to fall by 16% in real terms over the next four years.

In his article, Mr Kerevan said: “The May local elections showed that the Scottish working class expects the Sturgeon government to protect its immediate interests.

“Instead, SNP Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has talked about ‘responsible’ wage demands and the need to ‘modernise’ the public sector – code for more spending cuts. 

“The Scottish left now has a duty to oppose such cuts while demanding real action on independence. We are not the ‘loyal opposition’ – we are the opposition.”

An SNP spokesperson rejected the claim, saying: “As Mr Kerevan is perfectly aware, the Scottish Government’s response to the cost-of-living crisis is severely constrained by its legal requirement to balance its budget, which is largely dictated by the block grant from the Westminster Government.

“With the powers of independence, Scotland would be armed with all the necessary economic levers required to properly address pressing issues like public sector pay by finding Scottish solutions tailored to best meet the needs of the people of Scotland.

“That is precisely why the First Minister set out her clear preference to hold an independence referendum in October next year and any suggestion to the contrary is frankly absurd.”

Mr Kerevan, who served as the SNP MP for East Lothian between 2015 and 2017, defected to Alex Salmond’s Alba Party in early 2021.