The First Minister announced on Monday her campaign for Scottish independence will “resume in earnest” in the spring. But the SNP leader has been criticised for focusing on her next move to break up the Union following the emergence of the new Omicron coronavirus variant.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross branded it a “disgrace”, while Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said it was “deeply disappointing and irresponsible”.
Mr Ross said: “The people of Scotland will have sighed with dismay – but not disbelief – that Nicola Sturgeon’s response to the serious new Covid strain is to reaffirm her commitment to holding another divisive independence referendum within two years.
“It’s a disgrace that on the same day as the First Minister is talking about the possibility of introducing new restrictions to combat the Omicron variant, her focus is once again on breaking up the UK.
“But, as usual with the SNP, independence trumps every other priority, even when opinion poll after opinion poll tells them the public want them to get on with the day job.
“Scotland’s NHS is at breaking point, our drugs-death crisis shames the nation, our education system is in decline and the SNP’s soft-touch approach to justice is letting the public down.
“There are a whole host of problems that Nicola Sturgeon’s Government have created – and have a duty to put right – but their minds are elsewhere.”
Ms Baillie added: “It is deeply disappointing and irresponsible, in the face of a deepening public health crisis, that the focus of the First Minister is once more on sowing division between Scotland and the rest of the UK.”
Alex Cole-Hamilton, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said: “Nicola Sturgeon’s speech had almost twice as many references to independence as it did to the health service.”
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Ms Sturgeon made the comments on Scottish independence as she delivered the closing speech at the SNP annual conference on Monday.
Having already pledged to hold a second independence referendum before the end of 2023, the First Minister said that the campaign will “resume in earnest” next spring.
Boris Johnson has so far refused Ms Sturgeon’s push for Scotland to have another vote on its future after the country decisively rejected independence in 2014.
Ms Sturgeon said: “My message to the Prime Minister is this – if you have any respect at all for democracy – and if you have any confidence whatsoever in your argument against independence – you too will let the people decide.
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“Next year, Covid permitting, as we emerge from winter into spring, the campaign to persuade a majority of people in Scotland that our future will be more secure as an independent nation will resume in earnest.
“In the course of next year, I will initiate the process necessary to enable a referendum before the end of 2023.
“And just as importantly, our party will set out afresh the positive case for independence.
“We will outline the opportunities and advantages that independence will open up the opportunity to repair the damage of Covid – including the fiscal challenges it has created for all countries – in a way that aligns with our values and priorities as a nation.
“To use our financial and human resources to tackle poverty and give young people a better life.
“To use our vast natural resources to help safeguard our planet and secure green jobs for the future.
“And to rejoin the European family of nations, so that we can expand not narrow our horizons, and grow our trade across the whole of the continent.
“We will also be candid about the challenges the transition to independence will present, and set out clearly how we can and will overcome them. And then, friends, we will ask the people to decide.”