SNP conference: Party leaders raise the tempo on independence demands among members

Leading SNP figures have painted independence as a “new normal” in an attempt to reignite SNP members’ drive to campaign for a second referendum.

SNP members are meeting at a virtual conference.

Party sources worried that members had been left deflated when no new referendum Bill announcement was contained in the SNP’s Programme for Government for the next year. Instead Nicola Sturgeon said last week that civil servants would restart work on the “prospectus” for independence, and a second vote would take place “Covid permitting” by the end of 2023.

However, at the SNP conference, both Westminster leader Ian Blackford and the party’s president Mike Russell moved to quell any internal dismay and told members to prepare for a second independence campaign.

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Mr Russell, the political director of the party’s independence unit, told delegates attending the virtual conference that, while the pandemic had put life on hold, it had also meant building towards another independence referendum had to pause.

But he said “the people of Scotland must decide, as a matter of urgency, how our country should build forward from the pandemic and create a new, greener, more equal, more fair and more accessible society”.

Mr Russell added: “As restrictions ease, we must also begin to prepare ourselves again for that most normal, but most essential of steps: seeking the approval of the Scottish people to rejoin the world as an independent nation, making our own decisions about how to build forward to a better future.

“The phrase the ‘new normal’ is used often to describe what we need to create after the pandemic. For Scotland, that new normal has to be the normality of independence.

“It would be normal for our children, grandchildren, and future generations of Scots to live and shape a nation with a government with the normal powers that other governments have.

“In the European Union, almost half the member states are the same size as Scotland or smaller – some much smaller.

"They are also states that pay better pensions, have higher incomes, work more productively, are happier and healthier and play an effective role in the world – like our neighbour, independent Ireland, which this month chairs the UN Security Council.

“Those benefits of independence are not accidental. They are as a result of being able to make their own decisions and work constructively on the basis of equality with others.

“That is why we must now start building forward to Scotland’s new normal – independence.”

Due to speak on Saturday, Mr Blackford is expected to say: “In our landslide election victory in May, the SNP made the commitment that our immediate priority is to steer people safely through Covid and to kickstart the recovery.

"That is the promise we made and we will stay true to our word. But we made another democratic promise too.

"When the crisis of the pandemic has passed, Scotland’s people will have the right to choose our own future – an independent future. It is a manifesto promise we made to the Scottish people – it is a democratic promise we will keep.

"That coming referendum will define and decide our recovery, our choices and our future. Now is the moment to renew our case, win the argument and then decide our future.”

Mr Blackford is also expected to tell members that ending the political and economic union with the rest of the UK was the only way to “keep Scotland safe from Tory cuts and secure a fair, green and European future" and warn that Westminster is “threatening Scotland's recovery with damaging political choices”.

Addressing delegates virtually from the Isle of Skye, Mr Blackford will say: "The SNP agreement with the Green Party means that, since devolution, almost every major party has been part of the Scottish Government.

"It tells you all you need to know that the only party that hasn’t are – the Tories. Because Westminster’s choices are not Scotland's choices.

"All this time, we have been on a different path. The Scottish people have put their trust in different parties, made different political choices and ensured that different values are at the heart of governments in Scotland.

"That’s not a new normal – it is now the calm constant of Scottish politics.”

However, Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said there was “nothing normal” about imposing “deeper austerity on our NHS and schools, abolishing our currency, or building a border between friends and families”.

She said: “You can’t create a greener society by weakening the influence of the UK, and you can’t create a fairer society by putting people’s jobs and livelihoods at risk.

"Mike Russell is a broken record with tired old arguments that don’t reflect the priorities of the people of Scotland.

"Scots want their political leaders to focus on the NHS, Covid recovery, jobs and the climate emergency – and we do that by working together to build a better future for every community in the UK.”

Earlier this year on a visit to Scotland, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said an independence referendum was “as far from the top of my agenda as it is possible to be”.

"I think the priority for our country as a whole is bouncing back together, working our way forwards from this pandemic together, and I think the opportunities are absolutely phenomenal,” he said.

"The emphasis, I think, has got to be on economic recovery and I think constitutional change, it's not top of my agenda, let me put it that way.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has since said that support for a second referendum needed to be at 60 per cent in the polls before the UK Government would consider granting a section 30 order to the Scottish Government.

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