First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of creating a new “Project Fear” after announcing a second referendum on Scottish independence will be offered by the end of 2023 — “Covid permitting”.
Closing the SNP conference on Monday afternoon, Ms Sturgeon accused Scotland’s opposition parties of having “no aspiration” to lead Scotland, but only stand against what the Scottish Government did.
By forming a coalition with the Greens in government, she said, the SNP was not “resting on its laurels” after almost 15 years in power.
Addressing the party’s second digital conference from her home in Glasgow, the first minister thanked party members for their work in the run-up to the election and for supporting the agreement with the Scottish Greens.
The Scottish Conservatives claimed Ms Sturgeon was stoking a new “Project Fear“, invoking language used by nationalists during the first referendum on independence regarding unionist warnings about separation.
Sturgeon wants referendum by 2023
Ms Sturgeon said Scotland could have “a Westminster Tory government rejected by the people of Scotland and taking us in the wrong direction… happy for its Brexit obsession to damage our economy and content to take money from the poorest at the worst possible time”.
Or the country could, she claimed, vote for independence which would give Scotland “the full range of powers needed to make our country all it can be”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has so far rejected all calls for another vote, but Ms Sturgeon said she hoped the two governments could reach an agreement, as happened in 2014, “to allow the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland to be heard and respected”.
“This much is clear. Democracy must and democracy will prevail,” she added.
Ms Sturgeon was clear she wants there to be “a legal referendum within this term of Parliament, Covid permitting, by the end of 2023”.
Sturgeon levels criticism at Westminster
The first minister levelled criticism at the door of Boris Johnson’s Conservative government, slamming plans to increase National Insurance contributions, continuing with Brexit during the pandemic and scrapping the £20 uplift in Universal Credit.
She said: “In my view to even contemplate a cut like this displays a lack of basic understanding of the reality of life for those on the breadline or maybe it’s actually a lack of care.
“But to go ahead and implement this cut would expose an absence of basic humanity and moral compass.”
She continued: “Now, it’s no secret that I’m not Boris Johnson’s biggest fan, and no doubt that feeling is mutual.
“But I really struggle to believe that anyone’s conscience would allow them to proceed with this.
“So if this deeply cruel cut does happen, the only conclusion it will be possible to reach is that Boris Johnson simply has no shame.”
Faced with policies such as that she insisted that “the choice facing people in Scotland has never been clearer”.
‘Invented her own Nationalist Project Fear’
Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron, the party’s spokesman on the constitution at Holyrood, claimed the first minister’s speech was nothing but “wild conspiracy theory”.
He said: “This speech — another one headlined by independence – might work wonders with the extreme elements of the nationalist base. But it does nothing for Scotland.
“Only the most fanatical SNP supporters will buy Nicola Sturgeon’s wild conspiracy theory that the UK is trying to make Scotland poorer when the Scottish Budget is at a record high, the UK furlough scheme has saved a million Scottish jobs, and the UK vaccine scheme has protected the health of millions of Scots.
“Instead of focusing on the NHS crisis and protecting jobs, Nicola Sturgeon has invented her own nationalist Project Fear. To distract from the SNP’s domestic failings, she’s ramping up division.
“The SNP leader also dusted off the infamous ‘Arc of Prosperity’ to try and drum up some kind of economic case for separating Scotland in the middle of a crisis, when we need the strength and security of the United Kingdom more than ever.
“At some stage, Nicola Sturgeon is going to have to find something new to say.
“We are building Scotland’s real alternative to an SNP Government that looks more tired by the day.”
Scottish Labour leader hits out at ‘spin’
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “Nicola Sturgeon’s spin does nothing to tackle the levels of child poverty on our streets, the numbers waiting for treatment in our hospitals, and the depth of the economic crisis facing Scotland.
“We are up against a global pandemic, a growing healthcare crisis, a jobs crisis and a climate emergency – there is no time to waste.
“There were no new ideas for to help Scots, just the same old rhetoric, slogans and platitudes.”
Speech branded ‘cynical or deeply paranoid’
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said: “This speech from the SNP leader is either desperately cynical or deeply paranoid.
“The reason Scotland’s economy is falling further behind the rest of the UK is because incompetent SNP ministers have let down small businesses and allowed green jobs to drift away.
“Our health service is struggling because of 14 years of SNP neglect and a global pandemic. Our emissions targets keep being missed because SNP bosses have their attention elsewhere.
“Nicola Sturgeon should stop blaming others and give her whole attention to the warning lights blinking across the dashboard of public policy.
“Over the next three months my party will lay out plans to give new hope for the climate, young people and our public services. Nicola Sturgeon should take notes.”