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Independence: Sturgeon warning over debate answers

Nicola Sturgeon said Westminster would impose more spending cuts. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Nicola Sturgeon said Westminster would impose more spending cuts. Picture: Ian Rutherford

  • by SCOTT MACNAB
 

NICOLA Sturgeon has warned that some questions at the heart of the independence debate may not be resolved ahead of next year’s referendum.

Speaking during a major address to Nationalists in Glasgow yesterday, the Deputy First Minister said “exact answers might be beyond reach” on key issues.

The pro-independence campaign has found itself on the back foot in recent weeks as it struggled to provide clarity on the future of pensions, the currency and EU membership in the event of a Yes vote.

Better Together, the official pro-union lobby, even published 500 questions about the outcome of leaving the UK.

Ms Sturgeon yesterday responded by issuing her own “UK 2020” questions. These set out demands for answers on more powers for Holyrood, welfare, economic growth, the NHS and EU membership if Scotland votes to stay in the union.

The Deputy First Minister said: “To those in the No camp who say these questions can’t be answered because they depend on the policies of future governments, let me gently point out that exactly the same can be said of many of the 500 questions asked of the Yes campaign.

“And while the answers might be beyond reach at this time, the direction of travel for Scotland under continued Westminster government is all too clear.”

These included greater spending cuts and growing child poverty, people working “longer for less” and billions of pounds “wasted” on nuclear weapons, Ms Sturgeon argued.

Asked whether things that would remain uncertain until after the independence vote included EU membership and the currency, she replied: “I think the position on the EU is absolutely clear at the moment. The uncertainty in the EU lies with the UK government.”

Ms Sturgeon said the case for Scotland retaining sterling after independence was “overwhelming”.

She added: “The point I am making is that if the UK government was prepared to sit down and discuss these things in a grown-up way then that would jointly demonstrate to people … people will see the refusal to do that as what it is: it is a device to maximise fear and uncertainty.

“Scotland as an independent country will be a healthy vibrant democracy. And that will mean that many of the questions that will debating will be down to the policy changes that we can make.”

Scotland’s economic strength relative to the rest of the UK means there will be no need to raise tax in order for Scotland to become independent, Ms Sturgeon added.

“Decisions on tax will be taken at elections and budgets in an independent Scotland,” she said. “The fundamental point I would make is that there is no necessity to increase taxes in Scotland in order to become an independent country.

“Our finances are already stronger than the UK’s. Scotland right now can afford to be a fairer country. What is stopping us is we do not have control over those resources.”

Ms Sturgeon’s keynote speech was interrupted by campaigners protesting against the closure of three day-care centres in Glasgow who chanted “Shame on You” at the SNP deputy leader. The protesters were ushered out and Ms Sturgeon carried on without stopping.

Supporters were told there is a “natural majority” for independence – who will vote yes if they can be persuaded Scotland can be “wealthier and fairer”.

“Independence represents a continuation of Scotland’s journey as a nation,” she said.

The new universal credit system of benefits will also be changed in Scotland because it “discriminates against women”. Ms Sturgeon said the party will move away from single household payments which often go to the man in households and “undermine the independence of women”.

The SNP government has already pledged to scrap the so called “bedroom tax” if Scotland becomes independent.

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie called on Ms Sturgeon to “spell out” how she would pay for the welfare changes.

“Grandstanding on welfare, implying opposition to everything, is no way for a government minister to behave,” Mr Rennie said.

 

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