NICOLA Sturgeon has said her party is ready to put a referendum 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 yesterday 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 can be, a country of compassion, equality and love”.

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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Earlier in her speech she said that across Scotland she believed “there is quite substantial agreement” about the kind of “fairer” nation people wanted and contrasted that with how the Conservative Government at Westminster were moving the UK in a different direction.

“A fairer country, founded on the values of compassion and love, with an economy that is strong and works for everyone, and an equal partnership with our friends in the rest of the UK and across Europe,” she said.

“That kind of consensus is not unusual in northern European countries like ours – countries that value a fair, equal society and a strong community-driven ethos.

“In fact, that sense of community and solidarity is a great inbuilt advantage as we look to rebuild for the future.”

She added: “But what is unusual is that despite people across Scotland wanting, and indeed voting for, measures to bring about that kind of country – another government, the Westminster Government, controlled by a Tory party Scotland hasn’t voted for in 60 years, so often pulls us in a different direction.

“We have seen and continue to see the effects of that. People in Scotland rejected austerity cuts. But they were imposed on us anyway. We voted to stay in the European Union. But we were forced out. We want a fair society. But Westminster is taking money away from those who can least afford it.

“We value and have benefited from devolution and self-government. But Westminster has launched a power grab on the Scottish Parliament.”

During the 22-minute speech she also:

  • Compared the 4% pay offer to NHS staff from the Scottish Government to the 1% rise made 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.

Her speech came at a critical time for the SNP which is attempting to win a majority in Holyrood on May 6 but is facing tensions over the defection of a number of high profile figures to the new Alba Party.

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Alex 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 in a bid to achieve an independence “supermajority” and put more pressure on Johnson.

Sturgeon also announced her party’s intention of doubling the Scottish Child Payment if it returns to power.

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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 confirmed her intention for this to be doubled to £20 per week, benefitting more than 400,000 children in 250,000 households.