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Sturgeon quizzed over independence pensions plans

Sturgeon quizzed over independence pensions plans

Nicola Sturgeon has insisted Scots will not lose their pensions if the country votes for independence.

The claim came during a rowdy First Minister’s Questions and follows similar comments made in recent days by Kate Forbes, the finance secretary, and Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster.

Earlier this week, he told ITV Border that there was "an obligation on the UK Government to meet the commitment to pensioners who have paid National Insurance contributions."

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser asked the First Minister if it was “really now the SNP position that pensions in an independent Scotland would be paid for by taxpayers in England?”

Sturgeon said the UK Government had set out their position on this ahead of the last referendum. “When Scotland votes for independence, as was the case in 2014, the distribution of existing UK liabilities and assets including those related to pensions will be subject to negotiation and Scotland will fully pay its way in that. 

“But the key point here is for those in receipt of pensions, and it is what the Minister for pensions at the time in the UK Government, Steve Webb, confirmed, that people with accumulated rates would continue to receive the current levels of state pension in an independent Scotland. 

“People will notice no difference or perhaps the difference they might notice is that an independent Scotland might be able to improve the level of pensions, rather than have, as the UK does, one of the lowest pension levels in the whole of the developed world.”

Four months before the referendum, Webb told a Westminster committee that older people would with accumulated rights would be entitled to the current levels of state pension. 

However, he said there were still questions over which government would pay the money.

He told MPs: "Citizenship is irrelevant. It is what you have put into the UK National Insurance system prior to separation. Answer [for example] 35 years, that builds up to a continued UK pension under continuing UK rules. They are entitled to that money. The question is, who is paying for it, and how is that [cost] split?"

Webb later told the committee: “I would think the Scottish people would expect their Government to take on full responsibility for paying pensions to people in Scotland including where liabilities had arisen before independence. 

“Similarly people in the rest of the UK would not be expecting to guarantee or underwrite the pensions of those living in what would then have become a separate country. The security and sustainability of pensions being paid to people in Scotland would, therefore, depend on the ability of Scottish taxpayers to fund them."

Responding to one of her own MSPs asking for an update on a possible second independence referendum, the First Minister said there would be a vote when it was safe to do so.

“The people of Scotland, of course, elected this government last May and their democratic decision was to elect to Parliament, the biggest ever majority of MSPs in favour of an independence referendum,” she told MSPs.

Sturgeon said if the other parties were “confident in their arguments around independence” they would not be against the holding of a second referendum. 

“The alternative to independence is to continue to be governed by parties at Westminster that we don't vote for it. And right now, that is by a disreputable discredited government and a prime minister, frankly with no integrity nor shame, and no moral compass”.

Meanwhile, the First Minister was also pushed on plans to cut the bottom off classroom doors to increase airflow, with Douglas Ross claiming it could be a fire hazard.

In a letter to MSPs, education minister Shirley Anne Somerville said around 2,000 doors could be “undercut to increase airflow”, as part of plans to improve ventilation in schools.

Responding to Douglas Ross, the First Minister said it was “basic common sense” and about “taking measures to ensure that the natural flow of air in a room is maximised.”

Ross said the First Minister “couldn't even bring herself to accept this is chopping the bottom off of doors.” 

“However she tries to dress it up, however she tries to say its basic common sense, it has been met with derision. Because it is a serious issue here and there is more consequences as well, safety issues. Concerns about the risk from fire.”

He quoted a retired firefighter who said the doors were essential for holding back heat and smoke should a fire start.

Sturgeon said this was an “absurd” line of questioning, saying that health and safety regulations would “apply to all of the decisions that a local authority would make”.

Later, Labour’s Anas Sarwar asked why the SNP’s MPs had failed to vote for his party calls for a windfall tax on oil and gas firms in a bid to offset the cost of rising energy prices.

His question came as the price cap on energy rose by 54 per cent, adding up to £693 on to the cost of a typical household gas bill. Sarwar pointed out that Shell had announced profits of over $19billion, or roughly £27,000 profit every minute.

Sturgeon said she had no “ideological objection” to a windfall tax, though said she said the Scottish Government didn’t have the power to do any of this and it would be a decision for the UK Government. 

“The only caveat I would put on this though, is that we need to make sure that in rightly providing as much help as possible for households the length and breadth of the UK, the burden of doing that doesn't just fall on people, jobs and investment in the north east of Scotland at a time when we're trying to make the transition from oil and gas to renewable energy to meet our net zero targets. Westminster governments for decades now have seen the north east of Scotland as a cash cow.”

Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - Miners' Pardon: 'I knew I had done nothing wrong'

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