NICOLA Sturgeon has urged party members to focus on the “why” of independence rather than worrying about the when.

In her speech to the SNP’s Spring conference in Aberdeen, the First Minister told supporters that “confidence in the independence case” was growing, but the timing of indyref2 was still dependent on London’s negotiations with Brussels.

Sturgeon told the crowd: “So as we wait for the fog of Brexit to clear, our opportunity, indeed, our responsibility, is this: not just to focus on the when of independence, but to use our energy and passion to persuade those who still ask ‘why?’.

That, she added, was “the more important task”.

The First Minister’s spokesman rejected claims this was an attempt to cool down activists who want a vote sooner rather than later and said Sturgeon would still update Holyrood in the Autumn over the timing of the second independence referendum.

There were three big policy announcements in the speech.

The First Minister promised an immediate 3% pay rise for around 147,000 NHS nurses, midwives, allied health professionals, therapists, paramedics, support staff and administrators.

The Government said the wage hike would be in July’s pay packets, and that this was separate to negotiations over the three-year pay deal.

Sturgeon said this would mean the “vast majority of NHS staff will be paid not just the same as in NHS England this year, but more”.

There was also the promise of a “huge national construction programme” to build, expand or refurbish around 750 nurseries across the country.

The First Minister also unveiled a £16 million increase in college bursaries and university grants for students from the lowest income families. This, she said, would be accompanied by a raise in the earnings threshold for paying back student loans, from £18,000 to £25,000 from April 2021.

Sturgeon drew huge applause from the crowd in the hall when she attacked Scottish Tory boss Ruth Davidson over the EU Withdrawal Bill, and the UK Government’s failure to amend the power grab clause.

The First Minister accused Davidson of “hypocrisy”, pointing to a recent interview when the Tory leader replied to a question about the possibility of the UK parliament legislating on abortion in Northern Ireland by saying she would be “angry” if the Commons “legislated on a domestic Scottish issue over the head of Holyrood”.

“The very same Ruth Davidson who argued for, demanded, and then voted to allow the House of Commons to do exactly that. Now, let’s be frank, Ruth Davidson’s rhetoric very rarely survives contact with reality, but that took her hypocrisy to a whole new level,” Sturgeon said.

There was a mention too of Andrew Wilson’s Sustainable Growth Commission report.

Sturgeon said that the document, which has been criticised by some left-wing independence supporters, was realistic.

“It doesn’t shy away from challenges – and nor should it,” she said.

It would, she added, provide “the platform on which we will renew the case for independence”.

“It doesn’t pretend there are always easy answers – no one believes that. But it does lay strong foundations for independence.

“And it busts some Westminster myths along the way. On the deficit – created on Westminster’s watch, remember – it shows that the scare stories of Labour and the Tories are completely bogus.

“Even with no extra growth from independence, the deficit can be turned around within five to ten years. And it can be done with public spending rising, not falling.”