Sturgeon insists the time is ‘approaching’ for Scots to vote on independence

Nicola Sturgeon insisted she has an “unarguable mandate” to hold a second vote on Scottish independence, as she launched a fierce attack on the UK Prime Minister.

The Scottish First Minister and SNP leader criticised Boris Johnson and his Conservative government for its stance on immigration, over Brexit, and on plans to hike National Insurance and cut Universal Credit payments.

She sought to use her speech to the SNP national conference to contrast the different approaches taken by her government in Edinburgh and Mr Johnson’s at Westminster.

But she also restated her intention to hold another independence referendum when the coronavirus crisis is past.

The SNP won its fourth consecutive term in power at Holyrood in May’s Scottish elections, and Ms Sturgeon insisted that that victory “represents an unarguable mandate to implement the manifesto we put before the country”.

This included plans for another independence ballot, with Ms Sturgeon telling supporters the time to make a decision on Scotland’s future was “approaching”.

While the Prime Minister has so far rejected all calls for another vote, Ms Sturgeon said hoped the two governments could reach an agreement, as happened in 2014, “to allow the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland to be heard and respected”.

But she insisted: “This much is clear. Democracy must and democracy will prevail.”

Ms Sturgeon was clear she wants there to be “a legal referendum within this term of Parliament, Covid permitting, by the end of 2023”.

Speaking about the coronavirus pandemic, she said: “The crisis is not yet over, but we will get through it.

“And then it will be the time to think not of the past but of Scotland’s future.

“To decide who should be in charge of that future.”

The First Minister insisted: “People in Scotland have the right to make that choice.

“To decide to take our destiny into our own hands and shape a better future.

“Trust me, the time for that choice is approaching.”

Ms Sturgeon insisted that leading the Scotland through the ongoing Covid crisis was “the most important job”.

But her speech sought to look to the future to the prospect of “better days ahead”.

She also highlighted the “the different vision of society we in the Scottish Government have from those at Westminster”.

Offering asylum to those in “dire need”, such as the people fleeing Afghanistan, is an “expression of our common humanity”.

But he she claimed the UK Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill “fails that basic test of humanity”.

She went on to slam the Tories at Westminster for their decision to push ahead with a “hard Brexit right in the midst of a global pandemic” with Ms Sturgeon insisting this both “unnecessary and unforgivable”.

Meanwhile the UK Government’s planned hike in National Insurance contributions, to boost funding for the NHS and social care “fails the basic test of fairness”.

Cutting Universal Credit by £20 would show that Boris Johnson has ‘no shame’ Nicola Sturgeon said (Toby Melville/PA)
Cutting Universal Credit by £20 would show that Boris Johnson has ‘no shame’ Nicola Sturgeon said (Toby Melville/PA)

But perhaps her fiercest criticism was reserved for plans to scrap the £20 uplift in Universal Credit that was brought in as part of the response to the Covid pandemic.

“This will be the biggest overnight reduction to a basic rate of social security since the 1930s,” Ms Sturgeon said, adding that it will impact on millions of people across the UK.

For these people she said “the loss of more than £1,000 a year will be utterly devastating” adding: “It will quite literally take food out of children’s mouths.”

The reduction to Universal Credit will “drive people into debt and, in some cases, to destitution and despair”, she added.

“In my view to even contemplate a cut like this displays a lack of basic understanding of the reality of life for those on the breadline or maybe it’s actually a lack of care.

“But to go ahead and implement this cut would expose an absence of basic humanity and moral compass.”

She continued: “Now, it’s no secret that I’m not Boris Johnson’s biggest fan, and no doubt that feeling is mutual.

“But I really struggle to believe that anyone’s conscience would allow them to proceed with this.

“So if this deeply cruel cut does happen, the only conclusion it will be possible to reach is that Boris Johnson simply has no shame.”

Faced with policies such as that she insisted that “the choice facing people in Scotland has never been clearer”.

Ms Sturgeon said Scotland could have “a Westminster Tory government rejected by the people of Scotland and taking us in the wrong direction” and which which was “happy for its Brexit obsession to damage our economy and content to take money from the poorest at the worst possible time”.

In contrast she claimed that independence would give Scotland “the full range of powers needed to make our country all it can be”.

But Tory MSP Donald Cameron, the party’s spokesman on the constitution at Holyrood, accused the First Minister of putting forward a “wild conspiracy theory that the UK is trying to make Scotland poorer when the Scottish Budget is at a record high, the UK furlough scheme has saved a million Scottish jobs, and the UK vaccine scheme has protected the health of millions of Scots”.

He said: “Instead of focusing on the NHS crisis and protecting jobs, Nicola Sturgeon has invented her own nationalist Project Fear. To distract from the SNP’s domestic failings, she’s ramping up division.”

Meanwhile Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “Nicola Sturgeon’s spin does nothing to tackle the levels of child poverty on our streets, the numbers waiting for treatment in our hospitals, and the depth of the economic crisis facing Scotland.

“We are up against a global pandemic, a growing healthcare crisis, a jobs crisis and a climate emergency – there is no time to waste.

“There were no new ideas for to help Scots, just the same old rhetoric, slogans and platitudes.”