By Lucy Ashton
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has today called on the First Minster to suspend her independence campaign again to reflect the “perilous situation” the country and NHS face in light of the deadly third wave of the virus.
When detailing the Programme for Government in September Nicola Sturgeon announced a new independence bill would be brought forward this year. In the last lockdown she suspended the campaign for independence but has not repeated the suspension with the new lockdown.
Willie Rennie said: “We need to put the recovery first as we face this colossal new wave of the virus. If the country is to be locked down, so should the campaign for independence.
Prime Minister Boris Johnston on a visit to the Clyde Naval Base before the last election.
“The last time people were told to stay at home the First Minister suspended her constitutional campaign and stopped all work in government on the matter. The country and the NHS are now in an even more perilous situation so she needs to do that again.
“Civil servants are being put to work right now on the SNP’s next Independence Bill. That is the wrong priority for government. That work and any other work on independence should cease without delay.
“Just before Christmas the First Minister, right, criticised Boris Johnson for pursuing Brexit in the middle of a pandemic. When I challenged her to suspend the independence campaign for the very same reason she declined.
“She was wrong then and she will be even more wrong now if she fails to act. Just because Boris Johnson failed to listen does not mean she has to copy him. There is no justification for pursuing such massive constitutional change in the middle of a global pandemic.
“We are facing crises on all fronts – education, mental health and the economy. It has to be all hands on deck. The First Minister needs to put independence to one side and focus on this deadly third wave of the pandemic. Recovery must come first.”
Meanwhile, Mr Rennie said this about the lockdown itself: “There will be a heavy price to pay in terms of loss of education, poor mental health, access to health services and growing inequality but I agree the evidence supports the return of stricter measures.
“It would be a tragedy if the NHS was to be overwhelmed and more lives lost when the protective coat of the vaccine is within touching distance. This is about the safety of us all.
“Liberal Democrats want schools to return when the scientific evidence is clearer that it is safe to do so. As the threat of the virus is greater with age we would support the earlier return of nurseries and primary schools compared to secondary schools if the advice confirms that.
“As there will be more people back at work compared to the spring we will need more childcare for workers. If the government is asking people to work it has a responsibility to do all it can to make sure their children can be cared for.”