First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has closed the SNP’s first virtual conference, promising a second referendum on independence to be held in the “early part” of the next parliament.
Ms Sturgeon told party members via a speech recorded in Glasgow and broadcast online on Monday afternoon she would “ask the people of Scotland” for the “authority” to hold a “legal independence referendum”.
The party leader claimed campaigning for Scotland’s separation from the UK had been “put on hold” while the country suffered through the coronavirus pandemic.
She told conference Westminster was carrying on with a “damaging” Brexit while the country struggles with Covid-19 and that Scotland was being taken out the EU against its will by “Boris Johnson’s band of Brexiteers”.
‘Building a better Scotland’
The first minister peppered her speech with reference to Scotland joining a “partnership of equals” with the world, while arguing independence would be the “best way” to “rebuild the country” after the pandemic.
“Across the range of public services we’ve demonstrated the value of taking decisions in Scotland,” she said.
“Our government has delivered the baby box – giving every child in Scotland the best start in life.
“Record numbers of students from the most deprived backgrounds are now winning a place at university. Council tax bills remain lower here.
“We’ve introduced a progressive income tax system and a fairer social security system.
“We’ve set up a brand new development bank. We’ve delivered nearly 100,000 affordable homes, and kept more than 1,000 extra officers on our streets.
“That’s a record to build on.
“Next May we will ask you, the people of Scotland, to put your trust in us to continue that task of building a better country.
“I will ask you to judge us on our record and endorse our plans for the future.
“And in that election, I will seek your authority – no-one else’s – for a legal independence referendum to be held in the early part of the new Parliament.
“And then, collectively, we can answer those fundamental questions I have posed today.
“Who is best placed to lead Scotland’s recovery and build a better future. Westminster governments we don’t vote for or independent Scottish Governments – of whatever party – chosen by us and with Scotland’s best interests at heart?”
Alongside the announcement on a second referendum, Ms Sturgeon announced a number of policies aimed at mitigating the economic impact of the coronavirus.
She said the Scottish Government had already created a £2.4 billion business support fund and “established” the Young Person’s Guarantee, which aims to give everyone aged 16-24 the guarantee of work, education or training.
As part of the Our Pathway to Apprenticeships programme, she said a £100 a week allowance for school leavers up to age 18 would be given to apprentices, while employers will get £5,000 for every new modern apprentice they take on between the ages of 16 and 24.
‘Protect the NHS’
Ms Sturgeon said there was nothing “more important” to the health of the NHS than its staff, announcing a £500 one-off payment as “thanks” to every full-time NHS and adult social care worker.
‘Obsession with independence’
Anas Sarwar MSP, Scottish Labour’s shadow constitution minister, said: “Nobody should now be in any doubt – Nicola Sturgeon’s only priority is to further divide our nation at a time when we should be healing.
“Her obsession with independence — mentioning it over 20 times in her speech — is shameful when people are losing their lives and livelihoods.
“On the UK stage she pretends that she has paused the independence campaign to focus on the pandemic, but the truth is that indyref2 remains her top priority.
“We can’t come straight out of a pandemic and go straight into a divisive referendum.
“Instead we should be pulling our people together and rebuilding our economy, protecting jobs, fixing our education system and delivering an NHS that never again has to choose between fighting a virus or treating cancer.”