‘Astonishing insult’ Sturgeon orders Indyref2 blueprint despite raging Covid crisis

Scottish independence ‘is a myth’ says Patrick Christys

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The First Minister disclosed civil servants had been tasked with drafting a “detailed prospectus” on a UK split while a fresh wave of infections rages on. Despite failing to secure her own majority in May’s Holyrood election and lacking the power to hold a referendum, Ms Sturgeon claimed her “democratic mandate” was “beyond question”. She made the announcement as part of the first SNP-Green programme for government, the Holyrood equivalent of the Queen’s Speech.

But opposition leaders lambasted the Nationalist coalition’s “wrong priorities” in the midst of a deepening NHS crisis and fears for the pandemic-ravaged economy.

Pamela Nash, chief executive Scotland in Union, said the announcement shows “just how out of touch” First Minister and her Scottish Green partners are.

She added: “This is an astonishing insult to the people of Scotland who want their government to focus on Covid recovery.”

It came as accident and emergency performance hit a record low for a fourth consecutive week.

Official figures also showed soaring numbers of children waiting a year or more for specialist mental health care.

Ms Sturgeon has already ripped up key sections of the November 2013 White Paper on independence, titled Scotland’s Future, including plans to keep the pound.

Launched by Ms Sturgeon and predecessor Alex Salmond it was widely criticised for over-optimistic promises and an over-reliance on volatile North Sea oil revenues.

The First Minister also unveiled measures to crackdown on foxhunting, impose national rent controls and controversial plans to make it easier to change gender.

In the speech setting out her priorities for the next year, she took barely one minute to mention independence.

Ms Sturgeon said: “At this juncture in history, it is essential that we consider the kind of country we want to be, and how best to secure it.

“Which Parliament, Westminster or Holyrood, should make these choices? And what principles will they be guided by?

“These are questions which cannot be avoided, nor postponed until the die is already cast. So we intend to offer the choice.”

She added: “Crucially, we will ensure that the choice, when it comes, is a fully informed one.

“To that end, I can confirm that the Scottish Government will now restart work on the detailed prospectus that will guide the decision.”

Ms Sturgeon invited separtist allies, the Greens, into government after the SNP fell one seat short of an overall majority in May.

Their deal involves a shared policy platform and an agreement to pursue another vote on independence before the end of 2023.

It comes despite Boris Johnson ruling out any transfer of powers to hold a second referendum while he is in office.

Ms Sturgeon has previously claimed if the Prime Minister does reject her bid then she will move ahead with her Referendums Bill and force the UK Government to challenge this in court.

But she give no indication of how she intends to overcome his opposition.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas said Ms Sturgeon had put another referendum “front and centre” of her programme despite her pre-election pledge to focus on the Covid recovery.

He said: “Nicola Sturgeon’s big plan for Scotland’s recovery is a new White Paper for independence, instead of a jobs recovery plan, a real plan to tackle drug deaths, or a proper NHS recovery plan.

“People will watch in frustration, even fury, as the SNP-Green Government takes time and resources away from Scotland’s recovery from Covid, in favour of their usual obsession.

“Scotland’s priorities will be sidelined again by a nationalist government that puts independence above everything else.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the programme was “short on big ideas”.

He added: “This government’s record is defined by delays, broken promises, and a gulf between spin and action – and it seems we can expect more of the same.

“Scotland needed a programme for government that recognised the scale of the challenge facing our country.

“Instead, it has got a plan that isn’t good enough, it isn’t bold enough and it won’t do enough.”

Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton also dismissed many of the proposals as “old hype, reheated and rebadged”.

Ms Sturgeon also vowed to bring NHS waits “back within targets” by a “substantial” boost to capacity as part of her £1 billion recovery plan.

The 12 Bills due to be introduced in the coming year, include the much vaunted new National Care Service.

Ms Sturgeon claimed this would be “arguably the most significant public service reform since the creation of the National Health Service”, although the plan has already been criticised by councils.

CBI Scotland director Tracy Black said she would have liked to see a “greater focus on boosting growth” and firms would be “frustrated not to hear more about plans for upskilling and retraining”.

She added: “Business investment is absolutely vital to Scotland’s economic recovery, and the government should do everything in its power to attract – not repel – investment and the very best talent.”

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said the government “must work in partnership with industry on recovery and growth policies if we are to protect jobs and businesses.”

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