Nicola Sturgeon has insisted she has an “undeniable” mandate for a second Scottish independence referendum after the Scottish Government struck a “ground-breaking” power-sharing deal with the Greens.
The co-operation agreement, which has now been endorsed by both parties, will see Greens form part of the government for the first time anywhere in the UK.
It has been brought about by the need to “try to do politics differently” to tackle big issues such as climate change, the recovery from coronavirus and the impact of Brexit.
But Ms Sturgeon, speaking as MSPs returned to Holyrood after the summer recess, added that the “key strand” of the co-operation agreement would be fulfilling what she described as the “democratic mandate to let the Scottish people choose our own future”.
The First Minister insisted: “The mandate for that is undeniable – between us, the SNP and the Greens hold 72 of the 129 seats in this Parliament and each one of us was elected on a commitment to an independence referendum.”
She added: “The decisions that will shape our society and economy and our place in the world must be determined, democratically, here in Scotland and not imposed upon us, so often against our will, by government at Westminster.”
The First Minister stressed the agreement that has been reached between the two parties was not a full coalition, insisting that the SNP and the Scottish Greens would “retain distinct voices and independent identities”.
Despite this she hailed the agreement as “genuinely ground-breaking”, adding: “For the first time in UK politics, it will see Greens enter national government as ministers, working in a spirit of common endeavour, mutual challenge and collective responsibility to deliver for the people we serve.”
But Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross branded it a “nationalist coalition with one overriding goal – separating Scotland from the United Kingdom”.
He insisted: “Trying to claim that this is not a coalition, that is quite simply a joke even by SNP standards.”
Mr Ross said the deal had taken priority over the programme for government – the statement setting out the Scottish Government’s plans for the next 12 months, which is normally announced when MSPs return after the summer recess.
“Yet again a divisive referendum has come first, as it always does with this government,” Mr Ross said.
“Once again the SNP have got their priorities all wrong.”
He continued: “This is not a deal that works for Scotland. This is a deal that works for Nicola Sturgeon.
“She failed to get a majority and this deal is a consequence of that.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “This coalition agreement – for that is what is is – is just formalising the agreement from the last parliament where Nicola Sturgeon and the NSP hammer our public services with cuts and the Greens simply nod it through.”
He added: “This is no new government, this is not a clean start, this is a deal that more about the constitution, not the climate.
“It’s about greater control for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, not co-operation.”
He argued ministers should instead be focused on tackling issues such as unemployment, child poverty, the drugs deaths crisis and tackling the backlog that has built up within the NHS.