First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants indyref2 ‘early in next parliament’

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with West Dunbartonshire MP Martin Docherty Hughes, Argyll MP Brendan O’Hara and Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster. Picture by Bernie Heaney. Top picture: Wind blowing in the direction of SNP in Brucehill Road, Dumbarton.

By Democrat reporter

BBC Scotland is reporting that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said a second independence referendum should be held “in the earlier part” of the next Scottish Parliament term.

The SNP leader said her focus was currently on guiding the country through the pandemic.

But she insisted that the UK government’s current opposition to indyref2 was unsustainable.

She would not be drawn on what she might do if it consent was refused.

Ms Sturgeon was being interviewed by the BBC ahead of the SNP’s virtual conference which opens on Saturday and concludes on Monday with her leader’s speech.

The party, which has formed the Scottish government since 2007, believes that winning the next Holyrood election in May would give it a mandate to hold another referendum on independence.

However, the UK government has repeatedly said it would not grant the consent that Ms Sturgeon has argued would be needed if any referendum was to be legal.

It argues that the referendum result in 2014 – when voters rejected independence by 55% to 45% – still stands, and points to quotes at the time from both Ms Sturgeon and her predecessor, Alex Salmond, that it was a “once in a generation” event.

And Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, pictured left,  has said there should not be another referendum for “25 or 40 years”.

Some within the SNP and wider independence movement have urged Ms Sturgeon to develop a so-called Plan B strategy for securing a referendum if the UK government does not change its stance.

Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, said earlier this month that the referendum “must” be held next year – which critics argue would be all but impossible to do.

Ms Sturgeon appeared to distance herself from that strict timescale, saying only that: “I think the referendum should, for a whole variety of reasons, be in the earlier part of the next parliament.”

Ms Sturgeon appeared to distance herself from that strict timescale, saying only that: “I think the referendum should, for a whole variety of reasons, be in the earlier part of the next parliament.”

She added: “I intend to say more about this before the election in our manifesto, but we are still in a global pandemic that I feel a bit more hopeful about seeing the end of than I did even just a couple of months ago.

“There’s still a lot of uncertainty ahead. I’m a life-long believer and campaigner and advocate for independence, but right now I’m also the first minister of Scotland.

“My responsibility is to the health and well-being of the country and trying to steer it through a pandemic and I’m very focused on that.”

However, she said countries across the world – including Scotland – would have to decide “what kind of society we want to be” as they emerge from the pandemic.

The added element for Scotland, Ms Sturgeon predicted, would be questioning whether its future should be decided by “a Westminster government that seems determined to take us in the wrong direction” or a “Scottish government, of whatever party in the future, that is accountable to the Scottish people”.

And she insisted: “If people in Scotland vote for a referendum, there will be a referendum.

“Across the Atlantic, even Trump is having to concede the outcome of a fair and free democratic election”.

The Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has said another independence referendum is “the last thing Scotland needs”.

“Nicola Sturgeon says we should have another independence referendum ‘sooner rather than later’ and won’t even rule one out next year,” he said.

“The only thing to stop this and keep us focused on beating Covid and supporting our recovery after this virus is a vote for the Scottish Conservatives.”

He called for the country to stay focused on beating Covid and supporting the recovery from the pandemic.

Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said Scotland needed a government that was focused “needle sharp” on recovery from the Covid crisis.

He commented: “Scotland has been through huge turmoil over the last nine months. We haven’t even embarked on the economic recovery from the pandemic and the first minister wants to spend months or even years dividing the country over Scotland going its own way with independence.”

Pandemic response

It was confirmed last week that the number of deaths in Scotland which have been linked to Covid-19 had passed the 5,000 mark. Today (Friday) Health Secretary Jeane Freeman, pictured right,  added another 37 to that total.

Statistics released earlier in the year found that the country had seen one of the biggest rises in its death rates in Europe at the height of the pandemic – behind only England and Spain.

But a poll for BBC Scotland which was published last week suggested that people are largely supportive of Ms Sturgeon’s handling of the pandemic.

When asked what mistakes she had made during her response to the crisis, Ms Sturgeon said some of the early decisions had been based on a “under-developed knowledge” of the virus.

This impacted on the length of time it took it introduce regular testing in care homes – something she said she “deeply regrets”.

Ms Sturgeon has been involved in a bitter war of words with her predecessor, Mr Salmond, over her government’s handling of harassment allegations that were made against him.

The Scottish government paid Mr Salmond’s legal fees of £500,000 after it admitted acting unlawfully during its investigation, with a Holyrood inquiry currently investigating the affair.

A separate inquiry is also examining whether Ms Sturgeon may have broken the ministerial code.

When asked whether she would resign if she was found to have broken that code, Ms Sturgeon said she would not speculate on the outcome but added that she was “satisfied in my conduct and the decisions I took”.

However, she admitted that her relationship with Mr Salmond had “broken down”.

She added: “These are deeply personal matters. Alex Salmond, pictured left,  is somebody who I have been close to for a very long time, so there is a degree of personal pain for all sorts of people in this.

“But I’m also mindful that in talking about this, this whole thing all started off because women came forward with complaints.

“At every stage all I’ve tried to do is make sure that complaints that came forward, whoever they were about, could be properly investigated without fear or favour”.

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