LONDON: Nationalists who attempt to divide Scotland from England are no better than racists and sectarians, London mayor Sadiq Khan has told the Labour party conference in Perth. Mr Khan’s remarks in a speech warning against the rise of nationalist and populist parties have outraged supporters of Scottish independence. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, denounced Mr Khan’s claim that Nationalists seeking to divide English and Scots are no better than racists and sectarians as very disappointing. “I’m a big admirer of @SadiqKhan but today’s intervention is spectacularly ill-judged,” Ms Sturgeon tweeted. “It is an insult to all those Scots who support independence for reasons of inclusion & social justice,” the first minister said. “It is a sign of the sheer desperation and moral bankruptcy that has driven so many from Scottish Labour’s ranks.” The governing Scottish National party has been a vocal supporter of racial equality and religious tolerance and argues that leaving the UK would not prevent close links and free movement between England and Scotland. Mr Khan told the Scottish Labour spring conference that “populist and narrow nationalist parties” were rising around the world and that now was not the time to fuel division. “There’s no difference between those who try to divide us on the basis of whether we’re English or Scottish and those who try to divide us on the basis of our background, race or religion,” he said. “Now of course, I’m not saying that nationalists are somehow racist of bigoted — but now, more than ever — what we don’t need is more division and separation.” Mr Khan’s remarks highlight the gulf between many supporters and opponents of Scottish independence, at a time when there are growing expectations that the SNP will seek a second referendum on the issue before the UK leaves the EU. Most pro-independence campaigners in the 2014 referendum stressed an inclusive vision that welcomed “new Scots” born elsewhere including in England and embraced religious and racial diversity.
The SNP and the smaller pro-independence Scottish Green party have also been highly critical of UK curbs on immigration and both strongly support continued membership of the EU. Mr Khan will complain about portrayals by some in Scotland of London as “home to the elite” and a “hotbed of conservatism”. “There are some in Scotland who try to define London as your enemy,” he will say. “I can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. That is not my London and it’s not Labour’s London.” The SNP has long railed against rule from London. Former leader and first minister Alex Salmond in 2014 said Scotland should be a “beacon of progressive opinion” balancing the power of the “dark star of the economy” of London and the south of England. But Mr Salmond’s successor Nicola Sturgeon has said London should be seen as an economic opportunity for Scotland. Mr Khan will say both Scotland and London are beacons of progressive values within the UK. “London and Scotland have always had a very special relationship,” he will say. “Our shared values were demonstrated when Scotland and London both voted emphatically to remain within the European Union and by our continued rejection of this Tory government.”