HUMZA Yousaf launched the SNP’s General Election campaign to a packed room of supporters this week, making the case that for independence to stay on the agenda voters should back his party.

Yousaf offered to work “constructively” with a Labour government while vowing to make Scotland “Tory-free” by ousting all seven of the party’s MPs from seats across the country.

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Yet on independence, the First Minister only mentioned the phrase five times during his speech, the same amount of times Brexit was mentioned.

Urgency of independence

The cost of living crisis imposed by Westminster will be one of the key points during the next General Election campaign, and Yousaf is evidently seeking to link this to the need for independence.

With wages stagnating and standards of living falling, the big pitch will be trying to set the SNP apart from the Tories and Labour who are “committed to a Brexit-based economy no matter the cost to Scotland”, Yousaf told the audience in Glasgow.

As he did during his speech on industrial strategy earlier in the week, the First Minister set out the differences between the bleak picture of a future Scotland under Westminster rule, with the potential Scotland would have as an independent country in industries such as renewables, manufacturing, and tourism.

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Important moment for the Yes movement

“If you believe in independence, I ask you to vote SNP,” the First Minister said, suggesting that Keir Starmer would see every vote for Labour in Scotland as a vote for continued Westminster rule.

With polling for Yes remaining consistently high, but the party’s numbers taking a hit after a bruising election campaign and with the probe into the SNP’s finances rumbling on, Yousaf was pitching to Yes supporters to back his party to keep independence on the agenda.

“If you want to see an independent Scotland, you have to get out and vote for it,” he said, reiterating that the first line of the party’s manifesto will be that a vote for the SNP is a vote for independence.

He also said that Stephen Flynn’s contribution at PMQs in the House of Commons, thanks to the SNP’s being the third largest party, keeps the independence cause high up the media and Westminster agenda.

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How will the SNP achieve independence?

Speaking to journalists after his speech, Yousaf was asked how he would seek to get independence over the line after evidently pitching towards Yes supporters. Yousaf said it meant keeping independence “very firmly on the table” at Westminster.

“Let’s make no doubt about it, the independence cause is winning when the SNP is winning,” the First Minister said. “If it's taken off the table of course then those parties who oppose independence will say they have a mandate for further Westminster control.”

Yousaf’s strategy, backed by members at the party’s conference last October, sees the party aiming to secure the majority of Westminster seats to trigger negotiations with the incoming UK Government. Again, Yes supporters will be crucial to this becoming a reality.

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What’s the opposition reaction?

Mixed, as always. Alba claimed Yousaf’s speech showed the SNP had “decided not to campaign for independence at the General Election” after snubbing their Scotland United approach.

The party’s general secretary Chris McEleny said: “Alba Party will make a wide-scale intervention of at least twelve candidates across Scotland at next year’s General Election to make sure the people of Scotland have the choice of voting for independence – something we are more confident now than ever that a majority will take.”

Elsewhere, Scottish Tory MSP Craig Hoy said the speech showed the First Minister would spend “from now until polling day sticking his fingers in his ears and repeating: ‘Independence, independence, independence’ in a desperate bid to shore up his feuding, scandal-ridden party’s dwindling base”.

“Humza Yousaf admitted that his separation obsession will suffer a huge setback if the SNP lose seats,” Hoy added, calling on voters to back the Tories to oust SNP MPs.

it came in response to Yousaf’s vow that he would seek to oust all seven of the party’s MPs north of the Border, making Scotland “Tory-free”.