Support for independence is falling as voters face the “dreadful prospect” of the Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross all arguing about the constitution, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has insisted.
The Lib Dem said his party had a “real chance” of making gains in next month’s Holyrood election, as he claimed voters were looking to switch away from the SNP.
Mr Rennie said: “What the polls are hiding is a softness in the SNP vote that I have not seen for years.”
Speaking about support for Ms Sturgeon’s party, he added that voters “have not moved yet, but they are ready to move” and said that “we are opening the door for them”.
Mr Rennie claimed as his party campaigned across Scotland in the run-up to the May 6 election “we are finding we’re getting people moving over from the SNP for the first time in years”.
He insisted: “People are sick, fed up of all the arguments and are moving over to us.”
His comments come amid the ongoing public row between Ms Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond – who has now launched his own Alba Party.
But as MSPs investigated the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment allegations against the former first minister, he claimed senior figures in the SNP have been involved in a conspiracy against him – something which was flatly rejected by Ms Sturgeon.
With Mr Salmond now standing as a candidate in the election, Mr Rennie said there was now the prospect the next session of Holyrood could see “three nationalist parties arguing with each other” and with “Alex Salmond arguing with Nicola Sturgeon on the floor of the Parliament every week” while the Scottish Conservatives also continue with their “obsession about the constitutional issue”.
And he added: “I think the more people see the arguments between all of the different factions of the nationalist movement, I think the more they will want progressive change, an alternative to what has been on offer for the last few years.”
Voters are looking for a “fresh, progressive, alternative to the SNP”, who have now been in power in Scotland for 14 years, Mr Rennie argued.
He insisted the Scottish Liberal Democrat campaign was “going better than we imagined” with the party putting across a “clear, positive message that is very powerful, of putting recovery first”.
As a result, Mr Rennie stated: “I think we’ve got a real chance of growing.”
Speaking about the level of support for Scotland leaving the UK, he said: “What we have seen is a steady decline in support for independence, and I think that will continue the more that we see the dreadful prospect, perhaps becoming real, Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon, Douglas Ross, forever arguments between them and the different factions of the nationalist movement.
“I think support for them will go down.”