Nicola Sturgeon urged to set out Scots currency plan

Nicola Sturgeon is facing calls to set out her long-term plans for the currency which would be used by an independent Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon has issued reassurances about patient information following a cyber attack which hit NHS boards across Scotland.

The First Minister today said the pound would be the starting point, but indicated this could change. She also said that a flagship economic Commission set up last year has yet to produce any findings on the issue.

The currency was seen as a major weakness of the pro-independence campaign in 2014, after the SNP’s proposals for a currency union with rest of the UK were rejected by The UK Government.

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“The starting point for Scotland is that we would use the pound until we decided to do something else,” Ms Sturgeon told BBC Radio Scotland today.

“When we come to an independence referendum - if we come to an independence referendum - these will be subject to the greatest of scrutiny.

“We’re in a Westminster election.”

Ms Sturgeon wants to see an independent Scotland rejoining the EU, but said again today that could mean joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) or the European Economic Area (EEA) as part of a phased approach to joining up.

The SNP leader has already ruled out Scotland joining the euro insisting that no country “can be forced to join the euro” under the existing framework.

Ms Sturgeon has already set up an SNP “Growth Commission” to map out an economic blueprint report for an independent Scotland. It has already handed Ms Sturgeon with an interim report, but the First Minister refused to be drawn on the currency issue.

“We haven’t got to that stage yet,” she said.

“The starting point for an independent Scotland is that we would use the pound - it’s our currency.”

But the First Minister came under fire from opponents who branded the SNP’s currency plans a “shambles.”

Labour economy spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “The people of Scotland deserve some answers from Nicola Sturgeon.

“Her currency plans for an independent Scotland are a shambles. Nicola Sturgeon is the person who wants to use this General Election to threaten a second independence referendum, yet she refuses to give voters the clarity they need.

“SNP politicians have caused weeks of confusion, and now the First Minister has simply added to that.

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Ms Sturgeon’s comments on a future Scottish currency came as she confirmed that no patient data had been lost in the ransomware attack on NHS computer systems.

Eleven health boards as well as NHS National Services and the Scottish Ambulance Service were affected in an unprecedented cyber attack which hit scores of countries on Friday.

The attack impacted on acute hospital sites in Lanarkshire, as well as GP surgeries, dental practices and other primary care centres around the country.

Systems in Scotland were expected to be recovered by Monday and the First Minister said more than 120 public bodies have been contacted to ensure their defences are adequate.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said: “A big priority over the weekend has been making sure NHS boards are minimising the impact on patients.

“One thing that is very important to stress is that there is no evidence that there has been any patient data compromised, so patient confidentiality hasn’t been affected, but of course there will have been an impact on patients with some appointments cancelled.”

An investigation is under way to identify the cause of the attack and ministers are to convene an extraordinary meeting of the National Cyber Resilience leaders’ board on Tuesday to review the response to the breach.

The First Minister has also said she is still “absolutely full of ambition” for what the SNP can do in government, as her party prepares to celebrate a decade in power in Scotland.

While she said the party has a strong record in office, she conceded there are still “big challenges” for education in Scotland.

The party will mark 10 years in government in Scotland on Tuesday - exactly a week after figures were published showing less than half (49%) of Scotland’s 13 and 14-year-olds are performing well in writing.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I’ve made no bones about the fact that while there is lots and lots of strength in Scottish education, there are big challenges.

“While I can point to lots of areas where Scottish education is strong, doing well and improving, I’m not satisfied with that because I also see areas where clearly we need to do better.

“That’s why I’ve put such an emphasis and priority on improving standards in education.”

She dismissed any suggestion that Scotland has become more divided over the decade the SNP has been in power, despite the constitution now being a central focus of politics north of the border.

The First Minister wants to hold a second independence referendum sometime between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, arguing this is necessary to give Scotland - which voted against Brexit in 2016 - the chance to choose a different future.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I don’t believe Scotland is divided, there are differences of opinion on the constitutional future of Scotland, just as there are differences of opinion on Brexit. My position is I want Scotland to have a choice over the future direction we take.

“I would say to people whether they voted Leave or Remain, whether they are for independence or against independence, over these next few years we’ve got a big challenge to make sure Scotland’s voice is heard and we get the best outcome on these things for Scotland.”

Having spent five years as health secretary under her predecessor Alex Salmond, Ms Sturgeon highlighted improvements to the NHS north of the border - where one of the policies brought in by the SNP has been free prescriptions.

She said: “The health service in Scotland, in common with many other countries, has got significant challenges, but we are now seeing record funding in our health service, record numbers of people working in our health service.

“And one of the most important things we’ve done - and in future years will be shown to be one of the most important things - is integrating health and social care, so we stop people falling through the cracks in the middle.”

The SNP has “completely transformed the infrastructure of Scotland”, she added, citing improvements to motorways, the construction of a new bridge across the Forth, and work which has seen “hospitals, health centres and schools rebuilt or refurbished literally in every corner of the country”.

While she said it is “difficult to single out one highlight” from the SNP’s 10 years in government, Ms Sturgeon, who served as deputy first minister for seven years before succeeding Mr Salmond, said taking on the top job in Scottish politics was a “particular honour”.

She said: “Government brings with it lots of stresses and strains and there are days when it feels very difficult - as it should do.

“Every day feels difficult, but there is no greater privilege than having the chance to make a difference in your country by being in government and particularly by being the leader of your government.”

She said that “rather than look back, we’re looking forward”, adding: “We’re proud of what we’ve done but we’re absolutely full of ambition about what we still want to do.”