Nicola Sturgeon accused of 'regurgitating' independence priority as she lays out government programme

The First Minister was accused of “regurgitating” her party’s top priority of independence after she laid out her government’s immediate priorities to MSPs.

The Scottish Government will set out its “expectations” for what will come after Scotland reaches level zero of Covid-19 restrictions, Nicola Sturgeon has said, as she told MSPs on Wednesday of her plans for the first 100 days of government.

Ms Sturgeon said her “most important priority” was to lead Scotland safely out of the pandemic – but she also said she had been elected on a “clear mandate” to take forward a second independence referendum to “give people in Scotland a choice over our future when the crisis has passed”.

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On coronavirus, she said an announcement will come in the next three weeks on how Scotland will look once the levels system is scrapped and predicted “bumps in the road”.

Nicola Sturgeon was challenged on her priorities.

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"But the vaccine rollout gives us firm hope that we are on the right track,” she said. "We have committed to a comprehensive public inquiry and, within our first 100 days, we will establish a standing committee on pandemics.

“We will also lead a wider mission of national recovery and renewal. I have appointed the Deputy First Minister as Cabinet secretary for Covid recovery. He will convene the first meeting of the new cross-party steering group on Covid Recovery today.”

Ms Sturgeon also said the Scottish Government would publish an NHS recovery plan “setting out how we will achieve a 10 per cent increase in activity in key services” and legislation to create a national care service would be introduced within the next year.

“In our first 100 days, we will begin the consultation on legislation to establish a National Care Service,” she said.

"We intend to introduce the legislation during the first year of this Parliament and expect the service to be operational by the end of this Parliament.

“This will be, in my view, the most important public sector innovation since the establishment of the National Health Service.”

However, Ms Sturgeon went on to say that as Scotland emerged from the Covid crisis it needed to "decide the kind of country Scotland becomes” and "once the crisis is over – people in Scotland should have the right to make that choice”.

“The election result has delivered a substantial majority in this Parliament for an independence referendum within the current term,” she said.

"There can be no justification for the UK Government seeking to block that mandate. To do so would suggest that the Tories no longer consider the UK to be a voluntary union of nations. And it would be profoundly undemocratic.”

However, while opposition party leaders said there were things in Ms Sturgeon’s plan on which they would “work constructively”, they said her words on independence were “divisive”.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: "For most of the First Minister's statement she spoke of the pressing issues facing Scotland right now, finally putting more teachers in our school, finally delivering on childcare promises, finally focusing on climate change and the climate emergency.

“On these issues there are points where we can agree and work constructively with parties across this chamber, but ultimately this comes down to independence for the SNP.

“It is there in the third line of her statement. It took just 15 seconds for Nicola Sturgeon to talk up the prospect of another referendum. Nicola Sturgeon speaks of bringing people together then pushes the most divisive proposal imaginable.

“This isn't a speech to unite Scotland, it is not a statement of the people's priorities. It is regurgitation of the SNP's top priority.

"It sets up the same old us-versus-them choice, the same bitterness, the same division, the same proposals that the SNP thrive on.

“This Parliament does have a choice. Either we can be a Parliament of action that focuses 100 per cent on people's priorities and gets things done using the powers this Parliament has right now or another five years will be wasted as this government gets more and more distracted as time goes on.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: "I recognise the scale of the challenge facing our country coming through this pandemic. I am willing to work with anyone in the national interests or on the issues we agree on.

“But let's be clear, this is not day one of an SNP government, it is day 5,136. Rhetoric is no longer enough, we need action.

“This government must be bolder and more ambitious.

"If the First Minister is serious about focusing on recovery, will she commit in the first 100 days to deliver a genuine jobs guarantee scheme for young people and the long-term unemployed, to double the Scottish Child Payment to challenge child poverty, to remobilise the NHS to confront Scotland's biggest killer, cancer, and take urgent action to avoid a repeat of the SQA exams fiasco."

He added: “The First Minister has pledged to focus on our recovery and not be distracted by divisive old arguments. She must keep that promise.”

And Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The First Minister promised this would be a parliament focused on recovery and she would defer a referendum until the effects of the pandemic were over.

“I’m disappointed to see the First Minister announce plans which would push the recovery aside.

“She has re-announced a host of commitments that her government has failed to deliver in their last three terms in power.

"It’s important that patients don’t wait longer than 12 weeks for NHS treatment, young people get mental health treatment within 18 weeks, that we save more people from death from drugs and the poverty-related attainment gap is closed completely in schools.

"All these major issues must be delivered before the government presses for another referendum.”

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