THE next general election will be a "de facto referendum" on the Conservative Government with voters facing a choice between Labour and the Tories and the SNP will be irrelevant, according to the shadow Scottish Secretary.

Speaking exclusively to The Herald last night ahead of Sir Keir Starmer's two day visit to Scotland this week Ian Murray, the MP for Edinburgh South, dismissed Nicola Sturgeon's independence proposals and plan to rejoin the EU as mounting to "Brexit with stilts on".

The First Minister has said the next general election will be a "de facto referendum" on independence if the Supreme Court rules Holyrood cannot stage Indyref without the consent of the UK Government. A ruling from the court is likely to be made early next year. 

Mr Murray said Ms Sturgeon's plan to turn the general election into a "de facto referendum on independence" when the priorities of most Scots was how to pay their energy bills and mortgages would be a "significant dereliction of duty" which risked the re-election of a new Conservative Government.

"To turn that into a de facto referendum on independence when most Scots are worried about paying their energy bills and their mortgages seems to me to be significant dereliction of duty and would lead to another Tory government and a continuing of what we have seen over the last 10 years which is a status quo battle between the Scottish Government and the UK Government over a constitutional issue which ranks very low down on people's priorities," he said.

"I am very much of the view that in the next general election the SNP become irrelevant in the overall debate of where we go. It should be a referendum on 12 years of Tory failure, not a referendum on breaking up the country which makes the whole issue worse.

"To have the next general election turned into a de facto referendum [on independence] that would be legally, constitutionally and politically meaningless, I think, for the vast majority of Scottish voters, would be seen as a dereliction of duty about what a general election is supposed to be about and what the outcome should be which is to get rid of this Tory government and install a Labour government with a progressive policy platform that speaks to the whole of the UK and which Scots can really buy into and benefit from."

Mr Murray spoke to The Herald ahead of the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer's two day visit to Scotland tomorrow and Friday when he is expected to visit the Central Belt and the Dundee area.

In the wake of the former Prime Minister Liz Truss's disastrous mini budget, Labour has seen a significant lead in the polls across the UK which if replicated on polling day would see the party return to power with a large Commons majority.

Mr Murray, who is currently Labour's only MP in Scotland, did not wish to give a number on how many seats his party may win north of the Border at the next general election. The vote is likely to take place in 2024 though Labour have been calling for a snap election following the political turmoil at Westminster.

In recent weeks the SNP have stepped up their attacks on Labour accusing the party of supporting Brexit.

Mr Murray said his party campaigned against Brexit, did not want it to happen and would have got a softer Brexit had the SNP supported Labour in a key vote. He said his party's position going into the next election would be to improve the co-operation and trade agreement and on working relations with the EU.

"Can I stamp down on a SNP propaganda misconception? The Labour party does not support Brexit. We've never supported Brexit. We campaigned vociferously to stay. We spent more money than any election campaign ever in terms of the campaign to stay in the EU," he said.

"Had the SNP not abstained on the customs union vote, the customs union would have gone into the legislation."

He added: "Come the day after the next general election and Keir Starmer walks into Number 10, he will sit at his desk in the Cabinet Office and he will look at his in tray and the in tray will be the current position which we have which is the Trade and Co-Operation Agreement and being out of the European Union.

"We can't wish that to be anything else. Now that is the reality of the situation. There are two partnerships in this scenario. The UK and our European Union counterparts and friends and that relationship is shot.

"And therefore the best way, in the UK's national interests, is to make this current agreement work, fix all the problems with the current agreement and then to develop and grow the relationship.

"That's completely pragmatic and the reality of the situation. Now the SNP might wish for the reality of the situation to be different, but it's not. We voted for this Trade and Co-operation Agreement in 2019 because the alternative was no deal.

"And that would have brought even more social and economic havoc on the country. This misconception that Labour are now supporters of Brexit is total and utter rubbish and a lazy misinterpretation of what our actual policy is."

Craig Hoy MSP, Scottish Conservative chairman, said: “It’s obvious that Labour will say or do anything rather than mount a serious challenge to the SNP.

"People don’t want another referendum or a general election, but a robust defence of Scottish people’s interests and action on the global cost-of-living crisis. The Scottish Conservatives are aware of where the real threat to Scotland lies – it’s a shame Labour doesn’t seem to.”

An SNP spokeswoman said: “Ian Murray might not like the fact that Labour are now a pro Brexit party, but that doesn’t change the fact that Labour are now a pro Brexit party.

“Keir Starmer has taken a cynical political calculation to back Brexit in the hope of winning back seats elsewhere in the UK - completely disregarding Scotlands overwhelming vote to remain in the EU. 

“Independence is the only way for Scotland to get governments we vote for and the brighter future we deserve - that is why people across Scotland overwhelmingly voted for that choice in a referendum."

Pressed further on SNP attacks on Labour over Brexit, he turned his focus on the SNP's updated prospectus on independence.

The First Minister has conceded that there would be customs checks on the border with the UK if an independent Scotland joined the EU.

She has also not specifed a timetable for how long it would take for the new state to join the EU or given a commitment on joining the euro. The EU said at the weekend new members have to give a legal commitment to join the euro, though the bloc do not prescribe a timetable or a pathway for joining the single currency.

"The [SNP] prefer a Conservative Government at Westminster because it helps their agenda, and their proposition for dealing with Brexit is to deliver Brexit with stilts on.

"I do find all of their arguments about Brexit and independence to be completely and utterly contradictory to each other. We'll keep making the positive arguments for a closer relationship with the EU.

"But we can't magic up something just because we feel like it....The SNP can keep banging on with that attack line if they so wish. They voted for no deal and voted not to have a customs union.

"So they haven't practised what they've breached and I haven't seen how they would explain how an independent Scotland would get back into the EU with their currency proposals, and the debt and the deficit."