Nicola Sturgeon rejects Alex Salmond demand to start immediate independence negotiations
Nicola Sturgeon has said the SNP will not back Alex Salmond’s push to start immediate independence negotiations when Holyrood returns next month.
The First Minister said people who were “serious” about winning a Yes vote would not try to “bulldoze” their way to independence “regardless of the state of public opinion”.
Her predecessor hit back, accusing her of leaving Scotland’s economic recovery from the pandemic “in the hands of Westminster.”
Alba has said that if successful in next week’s election they will immediately bring forward “a clear and unmistakable instruction to the Scottish Government to open negotiations with Whitehall on independence.”
The SNP’s position is far more cautious. Sturgeon has previously said a second independence referendum should be in the "first half" of the next parliamentary term, when Scotland is in the "recovery phase" of the pandemic.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4 this morning, the First Minister said she could not propose a referendum “while the country is still dealing with the crisis of Covid”.
“Some of my critics in the independence movement might, or do, say that I’m too cautious on that front,” she said.
“But actually I think it’s a good thing to be cautious when we’re talking about a crisis. A health crisis and of course the future of our country.”
Asked if that meant she would vote against Alba’s motion, the First Minister replied: “Well firstly, before I substantively answer that, the polls right now – and I accept that polls are polls and it’s votes that will count – will suggest that’s not going to be the reality next week.
“Alba are polling at two, three per cent or thereabouts. But we’ll see what the election throws up next Thursday. But my immediate focus if I’m re-elected next Thursday is to get back to work, to continue to steer the country through Covid.”
She added: “I’m a life-long believer in independence, I want Scotland to be independent, but firstly we’ve got to steer the country through the crisis and of course we’ve got to build the majority for independence through patient persuasion.
“And people who are serious about achieving independence, I think, understand that. I actually think talk of supermajorities and gaming the system and trying to bulldoze our way to independence almost regardless of the state of public opinion, it risks putting those that we need to persuade of the case for independence off rather than pulling them towards us.”
Responding to the comments, Salmond said: “This crystallises the difference of strategy in this election campaign. Alba believes that for Scotland to recover from the coronavirus we need the financial recovery powers that we can only have through independence.
“Our economic recovery can’t wait until next year, or the year after, it must be a recovery led by Scotland’s Government right now.
“Scotland can’t afford to leave the economic decisions about how we recover from the coronavirus in the hands of Westminster. Boris Johnson is currently on the ropes as Prime Minister and already it has been suggested that we give him a one hundred day holiday from having to address the democratic will of Scotland.
“Scotland’s independence is Alba’s priority, and next week it shall be up to the people if they wish to cast their votes to show it is also their priority. Alba is rising and if we return representation from across Scotland then the people will have spoken and their Parliament must respond to that call. “
Meanwhile, the First Minister also responded to the comments made by Alison Rose, the CEO of RBS owner Natwest.
On Thursday she said the bank had “always been very clear” that its balance sheet would be “too big” for an independent Scotland’s economy, and that if Scots voted Yes, that the registered headquarters would move from Edinburgh to London.
Sturgeon said: "I don't necessarily accept all of that case, but I do accept that we have to engage constructively with businesses of all shapes and sizes.
"But Scotland, like countries of comparable size, is perfectly capable of being independent. We have a strong and vibrant business base in Scotland.
"But I do accept that we have to have those discussions."
She added: "We had this debate in the final stages of the referendum campaign in 2014, and banks at the time talked about registered offices, not operations, not jobs.
"But at the heart of this debate is, for those who are against independence, this ridiculous notion that somehow, uniquely, among countries around the world, Scotland is incapable of being independent.
"I don't accept that. Scotland would be a thriving, successful, independent country."