NICOLA Sturgeon has said her party is ready to put the case again to voters on whether Scotland should become an independent nation.

The SNP leader said independence was not a distraction from the country's recovery after the pandemic but was "essential to secure a recovery that is made here in Scotland and based on the values the majority of us subscribe to".

In an election campaign speech, watched by activists online this morning, she attacked Boris Johnson's Conservatives over Brexit and accused the UK Government of "muscling in" on decisions made in the Scottish Parliament.

On a second independence referendum she said that voters would "have the right to decide our own future in an independent referendum when this current crisis has passed, so that Scotland's recovery will be in Scotland's hands, so we can build the Scotland that we know we will can be, a country of compassion, equality and love".

And she added: "The SNP is ready to put our case to the country, a case that is based our our absolute belief that the best people to take Scotland forward are the people who live here.

"So my message in this vital election, the most important election in our country's history is this. For the strong experienced leadership that the country needs at this time of crisis, for a bold progressive ambitious policy programme to kickstart our recovery from Covid and to secure the right to choose our independence vote to re-elect me as your First Minister and the SNP as your government."

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During the 22-minute speech delivered from her own home she also:

  • Compared the 4% pay offer to NHS staff from the Scottish Government to the 1% rise made by the UKG to NHS staff in England.
  • Underlined that under the SNP university tuition would always be free to Scottish students.
  • Spelt out her party's commitment to give all primary pupils free breakfasts and lunches.

The speech comes at a critical time for the SNP which is attempting to win a majority of MSPs in Holyrood on May 6 when the party is facing tensions over the defection of a number of high profile figures to Alex Salmond's new Alba Party.

Salmond has said his party will not stand in the constituencies but just on the regional lists and has urged supporters to back the SNP on the first past the post part of the ballot.

During her speech the First Minister also vowed that ending child poverty should be a national mission statement for the next Scottish Parliament as she announced her party's intention to double the Scottish Child Payment.

It currently provides £10 a week to low-income families – initially those with children up to the age of six – and is set to expand to all children under the age of 16 by the end of next year.

But the First Minister will confirm her intention for this to be doubled to £20 per week, benefitting more than 400,000 children in 250,000 households.

And as part of further expansion, she will also propose payments are brought forward with affected families to receive "bridging payments" during 2022, with the full annual £520 being paid in four quarterly instalments.

She said: "The Scottish Child Payment has been described as a game changer in the fight to end child poverty.

"We know the pandemic will continue to cause financial hardship before then - so I can announce today that we will make bridging payments.

"But I can announce today that we will go further - I want to make ending child poverty a national mission for the next Parliament.

"It's time to end the scandal of child poverty and this will help to do it.

"It is a down payment on what will be possible when we have the full powers over tax and social security that only independence can deliver."

The pledge was made as a coalition of Scottish organisations published their manifesto detailing changes they believe are necessary "to create a more just Scottish social security system".

The Scottish Campaign on Rights to Social Security (SCoRSS) manifesto also calls for the doubling of the Scottish Child Payment as well as increasing financial support for unpaid carers and establishing a fundamental review of disability assistance.

Debbie Horne, senior policy officer at Citizens Advice Scotland, said: "This election comes at a time when a properly functioning social security safety net has never been so important.

"Over the next five years Scotland has the chance to create a world-leading social security system.

"The next Scottish Parliament must seize this opportunity to fully implement the changes set out in the SCoRSS manifesto."