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DEREK HEALEY: Summer of independence approaches, but are we talking about the wrong things?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in parliament.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in parliament.

Nicola Sturgeon’s final appearance at first minister’s questions before Holyrood broke for summer proved the big subjects should not be crowded out by a renewed independence push.

In front of MSPs, the pressing topics of the day were all linked to the ordinary job of government, rather than the march towards October 19 2023.

But like everything else in public life in Scotland, even when other issues take centre stage there’s a feeling the independence question is merely waiting in the wings.

With the curtain up on the theatre of Ms Sturgeon’s new drive for a referendum, Tories wanted to scrutinise a “derisory” pay offer to police.

The rank-and-file are preparing to withdraw “all goodwill” and claim payment for any overtime in response to a proposed £565 increase.

Details of the suspected fraudsters have been handed to police.

The Scottish Police Federation called it “the most overt demonstration of action by our members in more than 100 years”.

Tory leader Douglas Ross returned to a familiar phrase from previous rows on drugs deaths. He said Ms Sturgeon is taking her “eye off the ball”.

Mr Ross said she is now more focused on campaigning than actually governing the country.

Worst cancer waiting times on record

Anas Sarwar had the same idea, repeating the first minister’s old lines back to her as he raised the worst cancer waiting times on record.

The Scottish Labour leader said 78,310 patients in Scotland have already waited more than the six-week standard.

When he raised the same question a year ago – the number then was 44,516 – Ms Sturgeon said the recovery of services after Covid had been her focus “literally seven days a week, sometimes what has felt like almost 24 hours a day”.

Anas Sarwar.

Mr Sarwar turned that on its head to make the constitutional point.

He said the first minister has gone back to spending “seven days a week, sometimes what feels like 24 hours a day, focusing on her priority of dividing our country rather than rebuilding it”.

We’ve been covering the big issues that people are talking about.

Our stories on your concerns were raised repeatedly, whether it was getting teachers in rural areas or the lack of health services away from the central belt.

The worry for campaigners is whether those issues will be given enough attention throughout the summer as the country runs the rule over promised referendum papers and the legal bun fight over a new vote.

Cannot afford to wait

Those leading Dundee’s fight against drug deaths could only dream of such focus.

Families travelled to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday for a roundtable event with MSPs, Dundee Drugs Commission members and charities.

A ceremony held on International Overdose Awareness Day in 2018 displayed crosses to mark a record number of drug deaths in Dundee.
A ceremony held on International Overdose Awareness Day displayed crosses to mark a record number of drug deaths in Dundee.

In the end, that debate was the final piece of business on Thursday before the handful of MSPs left wrapped up parliamentary business for the summer.

Some were in the room when roundtable members described the “living hell” of not knowing whether a loved one who is addicted to drugs has survived the night.

People in Dundee and areas like it cannot wait any longer for action.

Cancer patients cannot afford to wait for treatment.

Mums seeking maternity care in Moray need help now. Our teachers and police officers need answers over their futures.

But for now, they will have to wait. Until at least September, when Parliament returns.

OPINION: Willie Rennie and Stephen Gethins deliver verdict on IndyRef2

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