INDEPENDENCE will be “front and centre” of the SNP’s Westminster election campaign, the party’s depute leader has said.

Speaking during an exclusive interview with The National’s Holyrood Weekly podcast, Keith Brown said that whether party chiefs decide to go down the de facto referendum route or “some other process”, independence will still be at the heart of the next General Election campaign.

With Labour and the SNP butting heads, as electioneering intensified over the past few weeks, Brown insisted he believed Labour would cave and strike a deal with the SNP “if they had to”.

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The SNP have said a Section 30 order, or allowing the Scottish Parliament the powers to legislate for a referendum, would be their price if Labour needed support to form the next UK Government.

It comes after the Tory vote share plummeted at the English council elections, but Labour did not deliver a resounding win, with the LibDems and Greens seeing a boost to their vote share too.

We previously told how Brown said that he believed the SNP must get better at highlighting a vote for independence is not a vote for an “SNP government in perpetuity”.

And, on this week’s episode of Holyrood Weekly, the former justice secretary was asked how the party will fight the next election amid the SNP finance probe and after the fallout from the SNP leadership election, where many opposition politicians have weaponised comments made by the contenders.

“If you're talking about the Westminster election then of course, the big question is the extent to which independence will be absolutely central,” Brown told the podcast.

“Whether it's a de facto referendum, or some other process.

“So it's not going to change, independence is going to be front and centre.

“Just because all the other parties want to try and pretend that independence is over, it's not over.

“You can’t kill an idea like that, it's there, and they really have to get used to the fact that around about half the population at any given time seem to be in support of it, and they can't dismiss that level of public support.

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“So independence is going to be central to it.”

Labour have repeatedly ruled out making any form of powersharing deal with the SNP, and accused the party of launching a campaign for another Tory government in recent weeks.

Starmer has repeatedly said he would not negotiate on a Section 30 order.

“I think they would come, if they had to,” Brown said, when asked for his view on the row.

“If it was the option between, I would think, I would hope letting the Tories back in, or having a progressive alliance.

The National:

“They’ll argue until they’re blue in the face that they won’t do that, but, I mean, I've heard this before.”

Brown pointed to 2011 when Labour were 15 points ahead of the SNP six weeks out from the ballot box.

“We got an incredible 69 seats and Labour had a disastrous election,” he added.

“Also in 2015, again, a similar vein, I had to let the biggest contract ever let by the Scottish Government, which was the one for ScotRail services.

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“I was continually harangued by the Labour Party not to sign it, because they were just about to form a government in 2015, and they would run to the rescue and nationalize it. Now it never happened in 2015.

“So I, you know, I take it with a pinch of salt.

“I think there's a great deal to be said for how volatile the polls still are.”

Brown labelled Keir Starmer “Mr Tory” and argued that his current approach will alienate many Labour voters.

“It's not done and dusted yet by any means. But yes, if Labour have any sense, and it hangs in the balance, then of course, they should do a deal with the SNP,” Brown said.

The National: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer chairs a meeting with shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves where he addressed 22 new local council leaders at the headquarters of the Labour Party in London. Picture date: Tuesday May 9, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS

When it comes to the next Holyrood election, Brown added, there is an “awful lot to be done” before 2026.

“Part of my job as depute leader is making sure that we have the logistical arrangements in place for making sure we have candidates vetted, candidates coming forward, new candidates being brought forward,” he said.

“But in the meantime, I think it will be the case, certainly in the Scottish Parliament that the continuing recovery from Covid and also the cost of living are going to dominate what the party concentrates on, and independence is the way out of that terminal decline, which the UK seems to be in.

“So I think those will be the broad themes, but we are some way away from the next election at this stage.”

You can listen to the latest episode of Holyrood weekly below, on Spotify, and on the Omny streaming platform.

New episodes will be available each Friday.