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Nicola Sturgeon: Any attempt to block a second referendum would show the UK is no longer a partnership of equals

Nicola Sturgeon: Any attempt to block a second referendum would show the UK is no longer a partnership of equals

Writing exclusively for Holyrood's Annual Review, the SNP leader says her government has a 'cast-iron mandate' for a second vote

It has been another eventful year in Scottish politics – although perhaps not the year that any of us imagined or hoped for.

Last year, I said that I hoped that 2021 would not be dominated by COVID-19. When I said that, we were in many different ways in a very different position from the one we find ourselves in now.

Restrictions back then were much tighter – in all parts of the country – than they are now. We hadn’t then of course encountered either the Alpha or the Delta variants of the virus, but we also had not begun the vaccination programme, so we hadn’t yet experienced the real benefits that it is bringing to us.

While the first part of this year will perhaps be remembered for the emergence of those new variants of COVID, it also brought with it renewed hope in the form of the heroic efforts of scientists, medics and researchers across the world who brought our vaccination programme to life.  

Vaccination, over time, has helped us to return to a more normal pattern of life, and vaccinators the length and breadth of Scotland have been working hard to make the light at the end of the tunnel that bit brighter, one jag at a time.

Put simply, Scotland’s recovery from this crisis must lie with the people who live here, rather than Westminster politicians that we don’t vote for. 

 

I mentioned vaccinators, but, as we move towards recovery, we must not lose sight of the incredible efforts of all those key workers – the nurses, teachers, carers, medics, supermarket workers and public sector workers – who kept this country going through a dark and difficult year. 

COVID-19 has transformed almost every aspect of life in countries around the world. And it has raised fundamental questions for all of us about the societies in which we live and the things that matter the most to us. 

May’s election was different to any other election I have ever taken part in. Firstly, because much of the campaigning took place virtually, with few opportunities to travel up and down the country and speak to voters face-to-face.

Sturgeon says her government has a 'cast-iron mandate' for a second independence vote

And secondly, because the 2021 Scottish Parliamentary election was the very first election in which all foreign nationals and refugees had the right to vote – a sign of the inclusive country Scotland strives to be.

We now have a parliament which looks a little more like the country it represents, with more women, more members of minority ethnic communities, the first women of colour and the first permanent wheelchair user all elected as MSPs. 

At the ballot box, the people of Scotland endorsed the SNP’s positive message of hope and recovery, and put their trust in me and my party to continue working towards a better Scotland for everyone who lives here. 

I take that endorsement extremely seriously. Since the election, I’ve been back at my desk, trying to the best of my ability to make decisions which are in the interests of the people of Scotland.

The immediate focus of my government as parliament returns will be to chart our way through the current crisis and ensure that our recovery from COVID-19 is one which puts justice and fairness at its heart. 

In the same way that people across the country have responded to the last year and a half with creativity, resilience and adaptability – so too must governments be prepared to come out of our comfort zones to drive post-pandemic improvements and positive change.

We are now more than 100 days into a new SNP government. Recovery will be a long haul, but in those first 100 days, we have used our experience in government to deliver for the people of Scotland – with direct action to protect our NHS, boost jobs, and secure opportunities for our children and young people.

We’ve also laid the foundations to bring forward a National Care Service, abolished fees for music and arts education, established a new Council for Economic Transformation, and completed the rollout of 1,140 hours of free early learning and childcare for more than 130,000 children across Scotland.

And we want to go further – to meet our climate targets, end child poverty and close the attainment gap. The COVID pandemic has shown us what can be achieved, when we have the will, the imagination and the ambition to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges.

The last year has reminded us of the precious nature of our world and the other pandemic our planet is currently facing, which we forget about at our peril. The climate crisis – with its inter-related threats of climate change, nature loss and pollution – remains the single biggest challenge the world faces. 

COVID-19 has not made people any less concerned about climate change, despite the virus disrupting and dominating many aspects of their lives.

With COP26 due to take place in Glasgow in November, Scotland has a unique opportunity to shape the narrative on climate change and show the world the work we are undertaking to tackle the climate emergency.

Our climate change legislation sets a target date for net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045 – which means our contribution to climate change will end, definitively, within a generation.

November’s global summit may be one of our last chances to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, and the Scottish Government is determined to play a leading role in efforts to meet that target. 

The policy programme this SNP government is committed to will deliver a more progressive, inclusive, outward-looking vision for the future of our nation. That vision is one which stands in stark contrast to the years of rightwing, Brexit-obsessed, Tory governments that we don’t vote for, taking us in a direction that we didn’t choose, currently facing Scotland at Westminster.

As we look to Scotland’s future and our recovery from the harms of COVID and Brexit, there is an absolutely fundamental question which needs to be addressed. Who has the right to decide the kind of country Scotland wants to be?

In May, the SNP was elected on a clear mandate, with a record number of votes, to deliver on the commitments we set out in our manifesto.

That election win and the clear pro-independence majority which now exists in the Scottish Parliament means that there is a cast-iron democratic mandate for an independence referendum to be held once the immediate COVID-19 crisis is over.   

On that basis, there can be no democratic justification for the UK Government to seek to block the choice of a better future being put to the people of Scotland.

Put simply, Scotland’s recovery from this crisis must lie with the people who live here, rather than Westminster politicians that we don’t vote for. 

Any misguided attempts by Boris Johnson or his Westminster colleagues to block the democratic will of those who live here, who voted overwhelmingly for pro-independence MSPs to represent them, will demonstrate conclusively that the UK is no longer a partnership of equals – and that, astonishingly, Westminster no longer sees the United Kingdom as a voluntary union.

Despite the challenges of the last 18 months, we should be optimistic about Scotland’s future. Better days lie ahead, and this government is absolutely committed to making sure that, as we move forward, Scotland remains one of the very best places in the world to grow up, where everyone has the chance to flourish and reach their full potential.

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