Scottish Government to 'restart' indyref2 preparations with plans for a vote before end of 2023
Nicola Sturgeon has told MSPs she hopes to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence before the end of 2023.
Setting out her government’s priorities for the next year, the First Minister said she had instructed civil servants to resume working on the “detailed prospectus that will guide the decision."
Work on the referendum was “paused” last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, with ministers saying the government needed to focus all of its resources on the health crisis.
The Scottish Conservatives accused the SNP of prioritising independence above the recovery from the pandemic.
Elsewhere in the Programme for Government, the First Minister confirmed that her administration would bring forward a Gender Recognition Reform bill to make "the existing process of gender recognition, less degrading intrusive and traumatic."
She said it would "make life a bit easier for one of the most stigmatised minorities in our society," insisting that it would not "remove any of the legal protections that women currently have."
There was also a promise to establish a National Care Service, which the First Minister compared to the creation of the National Health Service in the wake of the Second World War.
The First Minister also announced plans to double the Scottish Child Payment as well as vowing to invest in affordable, energy-efficient homes and green travel.
The government are also set to consult on changes to the justice system, including scrapping the "not proven" verdict and separating the dual roles of Scottish law officers. The First Minister also promised to upgrade the prison estates, with investment of half a billion pounds.
Other proposals in the Programme for Government include a collective pardon for miners convicted of various offences during strikes in the 1980s, and a fox control bill to strengthen the law on the use of dogs in hunts. There will also be a new law to bring in tougher regulation of the sale of fireworks.
In her speech, the First Minister told MSPs her administration would reaffirm "the Scottish Government’s commitment to a referendum on independence”.
Sturgeon said: “A democratic mandate to allow people to decide the country's future is beyond question.
“And at this juncture in history, it is essential that we consider the kind of country we want to be and how best to secure it. As we emerge from the pandemic choices fall to be made that will shape our economy and our society for decades to come.
“Which parliament, Westminster, or Holyrood, should make these choices and what principles will they be guided by? These are questions which cannot be avoided nor postponed until the die is already cast.
“So we intend to offer the choice. We will do so only when the Covid crisis has passed but our aim, Covid permitting, is that it will be in the first half of this parliament before the end of 2023.
“And crucially, we will ensure that the choice when it does come, is a fully informed one. To that end, I can confirm that the Scottish Government will now restart work on the detailed prospectus that will guide the decision.”
Responding, Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross said the First Minister had the wrong priorities.
He told MSPs: “The focus of her government is on a referendum, not Scotland’s recovery.
“The economy is not front and centre, it’s been shunted aside in favour of a plan to separate Scotland within two years."
Ross added: “People will watch in frustration, even fury, as the SNP-Green Government takes time and resources away from Scotland’s recovery from Covid, in favour of their usual obsession.
“Scotland’s priorities will be sidelined again by a nationalist government that puts independence above everything else.”
Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the SNP plan failed to recognise "the scale of the challenge facing our country."
He added: "Barely a week goes by without someone from the government’s front benches declaring something mundane, re-badged or self-serving as 'historic'.
"But the dire truth is that despite the SNP's rhetoric, the only thing historic today is 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."
Former SNP Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said his old party had kicked the "independence can down the road once again."
The MP who defected to Alex Salmond's Alba said: “The 60 seconds dedicated in today’s statement to independence shows where this Government’s priorities lie.
"The SNP-Green coalition continues to use the Covid pandemic as cover for not implementing the renewed mandate for an independence referendum. The ‘commitment’ to a referendum by 2023 is not worth the paper it is written on as it is dependent on recovery from Covid."