One of Nicola Sturgeon's closest allies has faced a barrage of criticism over a "disgraceful" article stating the deaths of elderly Scots was delivering a “gain” for independence.
Angus Robertson, the SNP's former Westminster leader and deputy leader, said “55,000 predominantly No supporting voters [were] passing away every year”.
Combined with more pro-separation young people reaching voting age, he said that had produced a “gain of over 100,000 for independence” since the referendum of 2014.
Holyrood's opposition parties condemned the intervention, highlighting the deaths of thousands of old people in recent months from coronavirus and the threat of a potential second wave.
But Mr Robertson, who is planning a political comeback in next May's Holyrood election, called the criticism "politically motivated" and "manufactured outrage".
He argued the same point about the demography of the Scottish electorate changing had been made the same day by a former head of communications for the Scottish Tories.
Disgraceful and deeply disappointing comments from @AngusRobertson - suggesting that the most vulnerable age group, who have been hardest hit through the tragic loss of so many lives throughout the pandemic, are a boost to his independence obsession. A new low for the SNP. pic.twitter.com/AK1qtj6Xzg— Douglas Ross MP (@Douglas4Moray) September 19, 2020
The row broke out as Sir Keir Starmer said a second independence referendum would have to be “looked at” if the SNP wins a majority in May's election.
The Labour leader also said another separation vote is a "question for Scotland", with Boris Johnson stating he will refuse to hand Ms Sturgeon the necessary powers during his premiership.
A series of recent opinion polls have put support for independence at around 55 per cent and the SNP on course for a landslide victory in May.
In an article for the separation-supporting National newspaper with the headline "the momentum is with us”, Mr Robertson said polls have shown a "gradual rise in support for independence" since the 2014 vote.
He wrote: “This could be in significant part because of the underlying change in the electorate, with roughly 55,000 predominantly Yes supporting 16-year-olds joining the electorate and 55,000 predominantly No supporting older voters passing away every year.
“Since 2014, this has added around 330,000 voters to the electorate, with a likely net gain of over 100,000 for independence.”
This tweet has now been deleted by @ScotNational.— Monica Lennon (@MonicaLennon7) September 19, 2020
Thousands of people have been banned from family funerals, older people pressured into signing DNACPRs and COVID-19 cases rising, but the man tipped as a successor to Nicola Sturgeon thought this was ok. Not ok @AngusRobertson. https://t.co/P2o6zc7pYj pic.twitter.com/pj8MZ0H4fD
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said the intervention was “disgraceful and deeply disappointing”.
He said: “Suggesting that the most vulnerable age group, who have been hardest hit through the tragic loss of so many lives throughout the pandemic, are a boost to his independence obsession.
Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour's health spokesman, said: "Thousands of people have been banned from family funerals... Covid-19 cases rising, but the man tipped as a successor to Nicola Sturgeon thought this was OK.”
Jamie Halcro-Johnston, another Tory MSP, highlighted the failure of SNP MPs or MSPs to condemn the remarks.
Thanks, Angus. I see that’s there’s Tory flak for Angus’s (similar) comments today. All part of the rough and tumble, and SNP types would do same, but worth noting that it’s simply a reflection of polling. Faux outrage would be better directed towards finding a strategy. https://t.co/XFNvzlqsyo— Andy Maciver (@akmaciver) September 20, 2020
But Mr Robertson, who is standing to be the SNP candidate in Edinburgh Central, the seat being vacated by Ruth Davidson, dismissed the controversy.
He said: “I have two elderly parents and like everyone else want the best for them and all older people.
"I was presenting simple statistical facts about the support for independence amongst different generations in changing society. This manufactured outrage and attack on me is demonstrably politically motivated."
Asked if there should be another referendum if the SNP wins in May, Sir Keir told Sky News's Sophy Ridge: "This is a question for Scotland, people of Scotland.
"If there’s a majority it’s got to be looked at in Westminster, but the Labour party will be campaigning into May on the basis that what we don’t want is another divisive referendum.”