Scottish independence: Nicola Sturgeon denies Scotland's NHS and education playing 'second fiddle' to referendum

Nicola Sturgeon has denied problems plaguing Scotland’s NHS, education and transport sectors are playing “second fiddle” to Scottish independence, declaring preparations for a referendum were not a distraction.

Addressing Holyrood at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon the case for independence was not “distinct or separate” to the big challenges facing Scotland.

Her comments come after the Scottish Government’s constitution secretary Angus Robertson confirmed on Wednesday plans were in motion to hold a referendum in October next year.

Citing the ferries scandal and problems bridging the attainment gap in education, Scottish Tories leader Douglas Ross asked: “Why should all these issues play second fiddle to another divisive independence referendum next year?”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Getty Images

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But Ms Sturgeon said: “Independence is part of the solution to those challenges. It's about how we equip ourselves better as a country to meet those challenges and fulfill our potential.

"It’s not the distraction that Douglas Ross wants to pretend it is. Instead it presents an alternative to a failing UK system, a failing UK system that gives us right now a Prime Minister with no democratic or moral mandate in Scotland.”

Mr Ross argued: “What a depressing answer from the First Minister. Never once responding to the points about education, about our NHS, about the justice system, never once responding to these issues that are pressing for people across Scotland right now. It will be playing second fiddle to an independence referendum because we know the First Minister cannot focus on improving our country when she is trying to divide it all over again.”

Ms Sturgeon claimed the Conservatives were “terrified” of another vote on Scottish independence.

The First Minister launched a new campaign for another referendum on independence earlier this week, publishing the first in a series of papers that will make up the prospectus for an independent Scotland.

The first document compared the UK to other nations of a similar size to Scotland on key economic and social measures, with further publications due over coming months, as well as an update on a route to a referendum without the use of a Section 30 order to devolve the necessary powers to Holyrood expected before the end of the month.

“There is a real desperation at the heart of Douglas Ross’s approach to independence.

“It’s very telling that he is so terrified of the substantive debate on independence, so terrified of the verdict of the Scottish people on independence ,that he’s reduced to somehow trying to pretend that democracy in Scotland is illegal.

“It is not a question of whether this Government respects the rule of law – we do and always will – the question is, is Douglas Ross a democrat?

“And I think the glaring answer to that is no.”

Responding, Mr Ross said: “First Minister, your priorities are all wrong at the worst possible time.

“It is a crucial moment right now for public services and our economy.

“We’ve just gone through a pandemic, war in Europe has hiked energy prices, there is a global cost-of-living crisis.”

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