Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to end her “vow of silence” as the SNP teetered on the brink of civil war about whether she should rule out a second independence referendum after the party’s General Election mauling.
The Tories said Ms Sturgeon’s lack of leadership had created a “vacuum at the heart of the SNP”, with senior Nationalists filling the void by “making up policy on the hoof.”
David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, said the First Minister should “wake up, smell the coffee” and give some clarity to the Scottish people by removing her independence threat.
Tommy Sheppard, the Edinburgh East MP, became the latest high-profile figure to argue that Ms Sturgeon should not even consider whether there should be another independence vote until after the Brexit process is concluded.
Among the other senior Nationalists to call for her to withdraw her plan for a 2019 referendum are Kenny MacAskill, the former Justice Minister, Alex Neil, the former Health Minister, and Alex Bell. Mr Bell, a former special adviser to Alex Salmond, urged the SNP to “shut up about indy ref 2.”
But Ian Blackford, the SNP’s new Westminster leader, insisted that independence was “not off the table” and Alyn Smith, an SNP MEP, argued the election result should not change her referendum strategy.
Their stance was echoed by Calum Kerr, who lost his Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk seat to the Tories in this month’s election. The former SNP MP argued it was “important not to overreact” and Scots should be given a choice over separation after Brexit.
The extent of the SNP schism over a second referendum was laid bare on the 10th day since the election of Ms Sturgeon refusing to spell out her next steps. She has said she wants to “reflect” on the result but has refused to set out any deadline for a decision.
It also emerged that the SNP’s national executive ruling body has commissioned an inquiry into the party’s election performance after it lost nearly half a million votes compared to the 2015 result and 21 MPs, including Mr Salmond and Angus Robertson, the deputy leader.
Murdo Fraser, a Scottish Tory MSP, said: “While senior MPs like Tommy Sheppard and Ian Blackford are making up policy on the hoof, Nicola Sturgeon has taken a vow of silence and has failed utterly to set out her own stance.
“There is now a vacuum at the heart of the SNP and it is beholden on the First Minister to step up, show some leadership, and give the people of Scotland some clarity.”
Mr Mundell told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland programme: “She should wake up, smell the coffee and be absolutely clear with the people of Scotland, as now members of her own party are indicating, and take that threat off the table.”
He repeated he could see “no circumstances” under which the UK Government would allow another referendum before the 2021 Scottish Parliament election.
James Kelly, Scottish Labour’s General Election campaign manager, said calls for Ms Sturgeon to ditch a second referendum are now “deafening”.
Mr Sheppard told the Sunday Herald that the hung parliament means a hard Brexit is “off the table” and Ms Sturgeon should wait until the negotiations with Brussels conclude before deciding whether another referendum is justified.
While it would remain an option, the MPs said “the timetable gets parked.” But John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister told the Sunday Politics the party is continuing to mull over its next steps.
He said: “Our proposal always was that we should have this referendum, if we have it, at the end of the Brexit process. We’ll consider those proposals and we will consider them in the light of the election campaign.”