The First Minister has pledged to join forces with other pro-independence parties like the Scottish Greens in a new summer campaign to make the case for Scotland leaving the UK and insisted another vote on the issue could be staged during the term of the next parliament.
She launched the SNP manifesto for the forthcoming Holyrood election yesterday within which it states a referendum re-run could be held if there is “clear and sustained evidence” that most Scots want it.
Although David Cameron has pledged to block this, with control over the constitution being retained in Westminster, Ms Sturgeon warned: “No politician will have the right to stand in the way.”
This prompted claims that Scotland is now in “constitutional limbo” from opponents who say it makes a mockery of Ms Sturgeon’s previous claims that the referendum was a “once in a generation” event.
The SNP is riding high in the polls and on course for an unprecedented third term in office and a second successive majority at Holyrood. In 2011, this was seen as a mandate for a referendum, but this time round Ms Sturgeon says Scots must first be persuaded of the case for a second vote on the constitution.
She said: “I would like that very much” before adding: “This summer we will start new work to persuade a majority in Scotland of the case for independence. If we don’t succeed we won’t have any right to propose another referendum.
“But if we do succeed – when we do succeed – if in the future there is a clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people, then no politician will have the right to stand in the way.”
The phrase “when we do succeed” was not part of Ms Sturgeon’s pre-released speech to the media. This phrase was met with a rapturous response from the 1,400 supporters at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre yesterday.
“I’ll deliver the case for independence and I will win the case for independence with the help of all the people in here,” she added.
The last referendum on independence was only secured with the agreement of the Tory government at Westminster which has control over reserved issues, but Ms Sturgeon warned UK politicians against blocking a second vote.
“We set the precedent in 2014 for how a democratic consensual referendum can happen,” she said.
“Any politician in the circumstances, where a majority of people in Scotland were saying they wanted independence, any politician who tried to stand in the way of that I think would quickly, at the ballot box, at the first available opportunity, be told exactly how people felt about that decision.”
The manifesto included pledges to increase day-to-day spending on the NHS by £500 million more than inflation over the next five years, and to spend nearly £20 billion on infrastructure.
Headteachers will also be directly handed the bulk of a £750m fund to help improve performance of schools in poorer areas, bypassing councils. New powers to get parents and local businesses more involved in the governance of schools will be introduced, But Ms Sturgeon says Scotland won’t emulate the academy model being rolled out south of the Border.
Full-time childcare of 30 hours a week will be introduced for all three and four-year-olds, as well as vulnerable two-year-olds, by the end of the parliament. Parents of all newborns will be offered a “baby box” full of essentials.
The party also pledged legislation to cut emissions by 50 per cent and to introduce a Warm Homes Act to tackle fuel poverty.
However, the pledge to recruit and retain 1,000 additional police officers, which the SNP first made in 2007, was abandoned, with the manifesto instead promising to ensure Police Scotland has the “right mix and numbers of staff for the future”.
Opponents last night hit out at the renewed push for independence.
Alastair Cameron, director of Scotland of Union, said: “This manifesto leaves us in constitutional limbo when we should be moving on. It ignores the views of the majority of Scots who made it clear they want to stay in the UK.”
Tory leader Ruth Davidson accused the First Minister of consigning Scotland to “five more years of rancour over the constitution”.
Ms Davidson added: “It is a recipe for more uncertainty which will damage jobs and weaken the economy.”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie added: “The truth is that for the SNP, the timing of any second referendum is down to the ONS – the opinion of Nicola Sturgeon. She will spend the next five years poring over the runes on independence when what Scotland deserves is five years for public services.”
Scottish Labour Leader Kezia Dugdale said: “It is not credible to say that opinion polls would give a mandate for holding a constitutional referendum.”