John Swinney has claimed a second independence referendum is an “essential priority” to enable Scotland to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The deputy first minister was branded “grossly irresponsible” by supporters of the United Kingdom when he said holding another poll was a “critical response” to the coronavirus crisis.
These are grossly irresponsible remarks and an insult to all those working to bring people together in the face of this pandemic.”
Pamela Nash, Scotland in Union chief executive
Mr Swinney made his comments after UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said there should not be another vote, particularly when people were struggling with the economic implications of the pandemic.
Appearing on the BBC’s Politics Scotland programme, Mr Swinney was asked about Sir Keir’s remarks.
Mr Swinney said; “An independence referendum is an essential priority for the people of Scotland, because it gives us the opportunity to choose how we decide to rebuild as a country from Covid.
“It would give us the opportunity to decide on our constitutional future and determine the nature of our economy and way in which we deal with and support our citizens.”
The deputy first minister added: “So it is a critical response to Covid.”
Earlier on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, the UK Labour leader said he did not think the current constitutional arrangements were working well, but argued that a referendum was not the answer.
“I don’t think there should be another referendum. I don’t think another divisive referendum is the right way forward,” Sir Keir said.
“But I do accept that the status quo isn’t working. And I don’t accept the argument that if the status quo isn’t working then the next thing you do is go to a referendum. I think there are other things that we can do, other arguments that can be made in support of the United Kingdom.”
When asked about the prospect of the SNP winning the May Scottish election on a manifesto with an indyref pledge, the Labour leader suggested recovering from the pandemic should be the priority.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic, probably the darkest moment of the pandemic in Scotland as much as the rest of the United Kingdom,” Sir Keir said. “The idea that the only discussion we are having about Scotland is whether there should be a referendum when the health service is on its knees, the economy is really under strain. Lots of people and families are struggling in Scotland for their jobs and the future.
“Every time we talk about Scotland, the only question is: should there be another referendum?”
The UK Labour leader added that he did not agree with prime minister Boris Johnson’s assertion that there should not be another poll on Scottish independence until at least 2055.
Sir Keir said: “I heard the prime minister say that and I don’t agree with that. But I do think if you ask the people of Scotland what their priorities are and this has been asked many times in the last nine months – most of them understandably say, the economy, jobs, health, public services.”
Mr Swinney’s argument that a referendum was essential to Covid recovery was attacked by Conservative MSPs.
Highland Tory MSP Jamie Halcro-Johnston asked: “What planet is he on?”
The SNP’s John Swinney claims on #PoliticsScotland that another independence referendum is an “essential priority for the people of Scotland” and a “critical response to Covid”.
That’s just utter [redacted]. 🤬
What planet is he on?
— Jamie Halcro Johnston MSP (@jhalcrojohnston) January 10, 2021
Tory constitution spokesman Dean Lockhart said: “It beggars belief that John Swinney feels another divisive independence referendum is a priority for Scotland while we are continuing to deal with a global pandemic.
“The SNP Government must be fully focused on ensuring the vaccine programme is successfully rolled out as it is what is giving people hope right now.
“They must also urgently get hundreds of millions out the door that they have from the UK Government to people and businesses who are worried about their jobs and livelihoods as current restrictions continue.
“That’s where the Deputy First Minister’s priorities for Scotland should be rather than dragging the country back to the divisions of the past.”
While the pro-UK group Scotland in Union chief executive Pamela Nash said: “These are grossly irresponsible remarks and an insult to all those working to bring people together in the face of this pandemic.
“Polls show that people do not think another divisive referendum is a priority, with only 11% Scots choosing it among the most important issues facing Scotland.
“No responsible politician would even contemplate a second referendum when the entire focus should be on rebuilding our economy and public services.
“The SNP is obsessed with how to tear communities apart, but we are stronger together as part of the UK and we can ensure a successful recovery by working together.”