DEPUTY First Minister John Swinney railled against Tory sleaze and warned of a Westminster assault on devolution during his keynote speech to the SNP conference.

The Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery told delegates that the Tories have “rewritten the definitions of cronyism and corruption”.

It comes after weeks of stories of Tory corruption dominated UK newspaper front pages after MP Owen Paterson was found to have broken parliamentary rules after receiving £100,000 from two companies to lobby ministers and officials on their behalf.

The UK Government tried to pass a motion to overturn Paterson's 30 day suspension, but were forced into a U-turn after a public backlash and sparked a row over MPs having second jobs. 

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Swinney said that the UK Government does not have a democratic mandate to rule Scotland, and that the Tories have lost “all moral authority” to hold the highest offices in the land.

He added that there is now a “concerted attack” on the powers of the Scottish Parliament through the Internal Market Act, which was brought in as a replacement for the European Single Market.

Speaking remotely to delegates on Saturday afternoon, Swinney said that the Tory government in Westminster show the electorate “little but contempt”.

He continued: “Contempt for Scottish democratic wishes.

“Contempt for Scotland’s democratic parliament.

“And led by a Prime Minister who seems to have contempt for everyone who isn’t called Boris Johnson.

The National:

Swinney said Johnson's government had lost all "moral authority" to govern

“A Prime Minister who seems to have spent almost as much time recently at Peppa Pig World as he did at COP 26.

“But you know, if it’s snouts in the trough that Boris Johnson wants to see, he doesn’t need to go all the way to Peppa Pig World.

“He just needs to look along the Commons benches to those sitting around him.”

Swinney added that while the eyes of the world were on Glasgow for the climate summit, what they saw was a Prime Minister who was “repeatedly forced to deny that the UK is a corrupt country”.

He added simply: “Conference, let’s not kid ourselves. Westminster is rotten to the core.”

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The Deputy FM then turned to Brexit, and claimed it was leading to a “concerted attack on our parliament”.

He said: “In a grotesque irony, the Tories are using something that the people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly against, Brexit, to undermine something they voted overwhelmingly for – the Scottish Parliament.

“There have been many threats to Scotland’s social and economic wellbeing as a result of Brexit, and many of them are only just beginning to be felt.

“Take the new Internal Market Act – which was the Tories’ smoke-and-mirror replacement of the European Single Market.”

Swinney said that although the Act’s name sounds “innocuous” it has given the Tories “unfettered power” to decide the rules of the internal market and “completely ignore” devolution if they choose to.

The National:

Swinney addressed the conference through a pre-recorded speech

He continued: “This is not some abstract constitutional debate.

“The Act gives them powers to spend public funds in devolved areas like education, culture and sport – all to fit their own priorities and giving us no say.

“It means they can ride roughshod over the ban on some single-use plastics that we recently announced as part of Scotland’s efforts to tackle the climate emergency.”

Swinney then pointed to the UK Government taking the Scottish Parliament to court of the incorporation of the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child, which the supreme court found was “outside the competence” of Holyrood.

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He said: “This was a Bill passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament, trying to enact a policy commitment which the UK themselves made in 1991 but haven’t fulfilled.

“It didn’t matter that the bill would have enormously benefitted children’s rights.

“What Westminster couldn’t handle was any suggestion that Scotland could be getting too big for its boots.

“Even the noble cause of advancing child welfare should not be allowed to get in the way of Westminster control.”

The Deputy FM then told delegates that “devolution is quietly being filleted” and that there should be a “Code Red for Devolution” issued.

He said: “All of us who care so deeply about the Scottish Parliament and its role in Scottish public life need to stand up and be counted – before it is too late.”

The National:

Swinney said that devolution and the Scottish Parliament are under threat from the Tories

Swinney then hit out at Scottish Labour, Scottish LibDems and Scottish Tories for caring more about “preserving the Union” than the Scottish Parliament.

He said: “They tolerated devolution while they were in charge - but as soon as they lost power they gave up on it.

“Well, the SNP will certainly not give up. We will fight this Tory power grab for as long as it takes.

“Because to give in on this most pressing of issues would be to give up on the people of Scotland.”

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Wrapping up his speech, Swinney said he understood those who were impatient for independence, as he feels the same.

He said: “The Westminster establishment may think that they can just wish away Scotland’s independence movement.

“But they should be absolutely clear that they won’t be able to do that.

“Our movement is growing and the case for independence grows ever stronger by the day. We are here to stay.

“And in the end, if we stay the course, we will win.”

SNP Westminster Ian Blackford is due to address the virtual conference on Sunday (today), with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon closing the four-day event on Monday afternoon.