express– The First Minister revealed she would not even pick up the phone to her former friend and mentor and forge a new joint separatist drive. Ms Sturgeon also attacked the Alba Party leader’s failure to condemn Russia over the Salisbury poisonings saying she no longer recognised her old boss. Speaking with just four weeks until the crunch Holyrood elections the SNP leader raised the prospect of a court battle with UK ministers over a second independence referendum.
Ms Sturgeon said the Covid pandemic could push another poll beyond her preferred 2023 deadline.
But she made clear that she would take every single vote cast for her party on May 6 as an endorsement to press ahead with her campaign to leave the UK.
Ms Sturgeon has not spoken to Mr Salmond since 2018, when he took legal action against the Scottish Government’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against him.
Mr Salmond was cleared of 13 counts of sexual assault at the High Court in Edinburgh last year but did admit inappropriate conduct.
Earlier this week he claimed Mr Sturgeon will have to put aside their civil war and work with him in the “national interest” if his new party wins seats.
Mr Salmond also demanded negotiations for Scottish independence start on “day one” of the new Holyrood term if he helps secure a nationalist “super-majority”.
He insisted a second referendum may not be needed and set out a series of other tactics including legal action, a plebiscite or peaceful protest to push towards separation.
In the latest extraordinary tit-for-tat public statements, Mr Salmond hit out at the “total lack of progress” since the 2014 referendum.
But Ms Sturgeon rubbished his latest proposals arguing they lacked any “credibility” and offered nothing more than “deceptively simplistic soundbites”.
Speaking to members of the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists’ Association she again ruled out “having any kind arrangement” with Mr Salmond or his breakaway party.
Branding his plan a “hindrance” to the independence cause she added: “It doesn’t even pass the first test of credibility.”
Asked if she would take a call from Mr Salmond if he wanted to discuss tactics, she said: “I have a feeling that Alex won’t be keen to pick up the phone to me any time soon.”
Pressed on whether she would call him about independence if the parliamentary arithmetic demanded it, she said: “No.”
Ms Sturgeon also warned Scots who vote SNP because they approve of her handling of Covid that their support will contribute to her mandate for another referendum, whether they want one or not.
“People look across what a party is offering and nobody votes SNP unaware of the SNP’s position on independence and on a referendum,” she said.
Boris Johnson has ruled out transferring power to Holyrood to hold a second referendum while he is in office.
SNP plans say the party will push ahead with arranging a vote regardless – and force the UK Government to challenge its legality in court.
Ms Sturgeon said if re-elected an SNP Government would “vigorously defend our position”
Asked if her plans for a poll could be stalled by the pandemic Ms Sturgeon replied: “I’ve said the starting point for me in terms of timing is after we’re out the pandemic. People say, what does that mean, that will be a question of judgement as we go through this pandemic.
“So if we, by the middle of the parliament, we were still grappling with in a way similar to now a global pandemic then I don’t think it would be appropriate to have a referendum at that point.”
Mr Salmond, who presents a programme for Kremlin-backed channel RT, came under fire on Wednesday after he disputed the evidence that Russia interfered in US elections and refused to say if he believed it was behind the Novichok poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in 2018.
Ms Sturgeon said there was no doubt in her mind that Russia was responsible adding: “All right-minded people who value and want to stand up for decent values across the world should say that. I can’t speculate on why Alex or anybody else decides to say, or not say, certain things.”
Asked how she felt personally she replied: “Sadly not surprised. Disappointed, because I do think that everybody who thinks they’ve got a role to play in politics, whether I think that is well-advised or not, should be mindful of the values of our country and the values we want to project internationally and the reputation of the country internationally.
“I look at him now and won’t always recognise the person I was close to all these years ago.
“That’s something I have had to come to terms with over the past couple of years and I’ve probably come to terms with it more now than I have in the past.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with a pro-independence blogger, Mr Salmond criticised the “total lack of progress in the last seven years”.
He added: “I suspect if Alba gets into the parliament, then our impact will be not just in the Alba MSPs elected, but the very very certain knowledge that unless the independence case is progressed as it should be with the urgency it requires, then these numbers whatever they may be, will be multiplied many times over when people next go into the polling stations.
“Alba acts as making sure independence is injected into the debate, in gaining a parliamentary foothold, but also the prospect of more to come.
“If of course – and it’s a possibility – we take off during this campaign in the last few weeks then who knows what we might achieve.”
Responding to Ms Sturgeon’s remarks Mr Salmond said: “Independence supporters who are already underwhelmed at the lack of progress towards independence over the last five years, despite there being a majority in the Parliament in favour of it, will be taken aback at the apparent lack of urgency towards independence in the next Parliament.
“As Scotland recovers from Covid we will need the full powers of independence to renew our economy and society, which is why the drive to independence should be a priority, not something to be delayed.
“That is exactly why we need an independence supermajority in the Scottish Parliament.”