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May slams SNP in bid to keep Scotland in UK after Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May accused Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of sacrificing living standards in Scotland in her pursuit of a breakaway from the UK, in a pointed attack as the Scottish National Party edges toward demanding a second independence referendum.

[LONDON] Prime Minister Theresa May accused Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of sacrificing living standards in Scotland in her pursuit of a breakaway from the UK, in a pointed attack as the Scottish National Party edges toward demanding a second independence referendum.

"A tunnel vision nationalism, which focuses only on independence at any cost, sells Scotland short," Mrs May said in a speech at the Scottish Conservative Party Conference in Glasgow on Friday.

"Politics is not a game and government is not a platform from which to pursue constitutional obsessions."

With Britain's Brexit negotiations set to dominate the political agenda for at least the next two years, Mrs May is trying to avert another referendum after Scots voted to remain in the UK in 2014.

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 In last year's plebiscite on EU membership, Scots overwhelmingly wanted to remain in the bloc, while the UK as a whole voted to leave. That's given Ms Sturgeon the fodder she needs to demand another independence vote - and she's pledged to do so unless the prime minister softens her plan for leaving the EU and its single market.

Late on Thursday, Mrs May declined to give a yes or no answer when asked in a BBC television interview if she would grant Ms Sturgeon a second independence referendum.

"I don't think people want a referendum today," Mrs May said.

"They want the SNP government to get on with the day job."

Ms Sturgeon said Mrs May has shown no flexibility or willingness to adapt her position in response to Scottish concerns about her strategy for Brexit. London should not be permitted to dictate the terms of Scotland's future, she said.

"The Scottish government's approach since the EU referendum has been to offer compromise and to seek consensus at every turn -- in return the UK government's has so far been one of obstinacy and intransigence," Ms Sturgeon said in an emailed statement Thursday.

"Where we have spoken the language of consensus and cooperation, theirs has been the language of Westminster diktat."

Scotland voted by 55 per cent to 45 per cent against independence in 2014 and that division roughly stayed the same through the end of last year. But a BMG poll for the Glasgow-based Herald newspaper carried out this year found the gap in favour of remaining within the UK had narrowed to two percentage points.

Mrs May accused Ms Sturgeon of putting living standards and services at risk in the interests of breaking away from Britain, and said she is "optimistic" about the future as Britain approaches Brexit.

The SNP is "interested only in stoking up endless constitutional grievance and furthering their obsession with independence, at the expense of Scottish public services like the National Health Service and education," Mrs May said.

"I am just as concerned that young people in Dundee get a good start in life and receive the education they need to reach their full potential as I am about young people in Doncaster and Dartford."

Mrs May highlighted the record of Sturgeon's administration, saying that the SNP's "obsession" with independence is harming the lives of Scots. Ms Sturgeon has neglected the interests of children, the sick and victims of crime during her time at the helm of the semi-autonomous Scottish government. Declining standards in education are "a scandal" and the direct result of 10 years of the SNP being in power, she told delegates.

"Scottish schools, which once led the world in setting the highest standards of attainment, are now outperformed in every category by schools in England, Northern Ireland, Estonia and Poland," she said.

"Just this week we have learned that the SNP government has delayed its planned education bill, such is their obsession with the single issue of independence."

After Brexit, Mrs May promised that "no decisions currently taken by the Scottish Parliament will be removed from them".

She added that "we will use the opportunity of Brexit to ensure that more decisions are devolved back into the hands of the Scottish people".

The premier pointed out that the UK market is worth four times more than the EU market to Scottish companies, concluding that "there is no economic case for breaking up the United Kingdom, or of loosening the ties which bind us together".

"Ours is not a marriage of convenience, or a fair-weather friendship, but a true and enduring Union, tested in adversity and found to be true," Mrs May said.