The Scottish Government is to restart work on a “detailed prospectus” for independence ahead of a second referendum on the future of the UK, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
While work on this had been halted following the coronavirus pandemic, Scotland’s First Minister confirmed to MSPs it would commence again.
She made the announcement in her Programme for Government, setting out her Government’s plans for the coming months and years.
As part of this, the First Minister promised reform of public services, with a National Care Service Bill to be brought in in the next parliamentary year.
This legislation will “implement what is arguably the most significant public service reform since the creation of the National Health Service,” Ms Sturgeon said, as she pledged funding for social care would rise by at least £800 million over the lifetime of the Parliament.
The Scottish Child Payment, a £10 a week benefit which goes to help hard-up families, will be doubled to £20 a week as “early within the life of the Parliament as possible”, the First Minister added.
And to help close the poverty related attainment gap in Scotland’s schools, she said there would be a further investment of £1 billion over the course of this Parliament.
Over the same period spending on the frontline health services will increase by 20% – meaning that by 2026-27, the budget for this should be be £2.5 billion higher than it is today.
Ms Sturgeon went on to pledge almost £3.5 billion of funding over the next five years to help build an additional 110,000 affordable homes across Scotland.
🏡 We will invest at least £1.8 billion to make Scotland’s homes and buildings more efficient and easier to heat – while also tackling fuel poverty.
— The SNP (@theSNP) September 7, 2021
Other plans will see investment of £1.8 billion over the period to make “homes and buildings easier and greener to heat”, she said.
In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, Ms Sturgeon insisted that her Programme for Government “sets out clear plans to lead Scotland out of the greatest health crisis in a century and transform our nation and the lives of those who live here”.
She added: “We will deliver a National Care Service; double the Scottish Child Payment; and invest in affordable, energy efficient homes and green travel.”
But as well as promising to “invest in and reform our public services”, Ms Sturgeon used her statement to Holyrood to reaffirm the commitment to having a second Scottish independence vote.
The First Minister declared: “Our democratic mandate to allow people, not politicians, to decide the country’s future is beyond question.”
With Scotland looking to rebuild and recover from Covid-19, she argued that “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”.
Questions over Scotland’s future “cannot be avoided, nor postponed until the die is already cast,” the First Minister said, as she confirmed the Government still wants to hold a referendum before the end of 2023 “Covid permitting”.
Ms Sturgeon added: “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.”
She stated: “The case for independence is a strong one, and we will present it openly, frankly and with confidence and ambition.”
Opposition party leaders responded to the Programme for Government in a debate following the First Minister’s speech.
The Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, said: “In a statement that is 27 pages long, it takes to just the fourth paragraph for Nicola Sturgeon to mention independence.
“It’s right up there in front of all of the other priorities that we should have.”
He continued: “Their focus is on a referendum, not the future of Scotland getting through this pandemic.
“This Government should be pouring every single bit of time and effort into our economy, into tackling drug deaths and into remobilising our NHS.
“But no, they proved independence is at the forefront again.”
Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, said: “Scotland needed a programme for Government to recognise the scale of the challenge facing our country, but instead we got a programme that was short on big ideas.
“This isn’t good enough, it isn’t bold enough and it won’t do enough.”
He said there was a lack of a coherent plan for green jobs and reducing child poverty.
Mr Sarwar said: “The only meaningful job creation scheme we’ve seen in this parliament is for the First Minister’s pals
“Not quite what we meant by a focus on green jobs.”
Liberal Democrat leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, said Scotland needed “hope” following the pandemic.
He said: “In this programme there is little hope, but rather old hype, reheated.”