POLITICS
15/10/2015 09:04 BST | Updated 15/10/2015 09:59 BST

Further Benefit Cuts Could Trigger Another Independence Referendum, Warns The SNP's John Swinney

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John Swinney, Scotlands deputy first minister

Further austerity-driven benefit cuts and a vote to leave the EU could turn Scottish public opinion in favour of another independence referendum, the SNP Deputy First Minister argued today.

Speaking ahead of his party’s conference in Aberdeen, which kicks of this morning, John Swinney claimed there would be a repeat of last year’s referendum if there was “consistent evidence” that a large number of ‘No’ voters had changed their minds.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is expected to tell SNP delegates that a second referendum is not an immediate priority when she opens the conference later today.

Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning. Mr Swinney said “substantial things” would need to change in order for the party to press for another vote.

He said: “For example the situation on the European Referendum and what that may deliver for us; such as the impact of the UK Government’s austerity attack and the benefit attack; such as the whole approach to renewing the Trident nuclear missile system programme – what does that do to the debate within Scotland.

“This is a debate that can develop and change but what the First Minister is saying today is there has to be strong and consistent evidence of a change of attitude on the proportion of a large number of No voters to enable there to be a referendum and that’s essentially putting the issue into the hands of the people of Scotland where it properly should be handled.”

Ahead of last year’s vote, which saw the No campaign win by 55 per cent, then-SNP leader Alex Salmond described the referendum as a "once in a generation opportunity" for independence.

But far from the defeat wounding the Nationalists, the SNP went on to win 56 out of the 59 Scottish seats available in May’s General Election.

Ms Sturgeon will use her speech today to appeal directly to those who did not back independence in last year’s vote.

Referring to next year’s Holyrood elections, she is expected to say: “There will, understandably, be significant interest in what our manifesto will say about independence.

“But let me make this clear: what matters just as much to me and to people across the country will be what it says about jobs and the economy, the safety of our communities, our hospitals and health centres, our schools, colleges and universities and our plans to use new powers to tackle poverty and inequality.”