NICOLA Sturgeon has set out plans for a second independence referendum as she unveiled her government's legislative agenda to the Scottish Parliament. 

The First Minister said her administration is to restart work on "a detailed prospectus" ahead of a new vote which she wanted to be held by the end of 2023 so long as the Covid pandemic had passed.

The programme, she said, reaffirmed the Scottish Government's commitment to a new referendum.

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"Our democratic mandate to allow people to decide the country's future is beyond question," she told MSPs.

"At this juncture in history it is essential 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."

She added: "These are questions which cannot be avoided, nor postponed until the die is already cast. So we intend to offer that 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.

"Crucially, we will ensure that the choice - when it comes - 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."

The First Minister went on to say that "the immediate priority" of her government is to lead Scotland out of the pandemic.

She noted the current surge in Covid cases but added that it was possible there was an early sign that the rate of increase was beginning to slow.

Ahead of the Cop 26 conference in Glasgow in November, Sturgeon said tackling the climate emergency was a "moral and economic imperative".

The First Minster said: "We must act fast to decarbonise heat and transport - just as we have already done for electricity.

"I can confirm today that we will invest at least £1.8 billion over the course of this parliament to make homes and buildings easier and greener to heart - this will enable the decarbonisation of one million homes by 2030.

She added: "We will lead a green travel revolution.

"By 2024-25, at least 10% of the transport budget will be dedicated to active travel.

"Building on the pilots under way, free bikes will be provided to children whose families cannot afford them."

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Concluding her statement on the Programme for Government, Nicola Sturgeon said: "This programme sets out clear plans to lead Scotland out of the greatest health crisis in a century and transform our nation and the lives of those who live here.

"We will deliver a National Care Service; we will double the Scottish Child Payment; and invest in affordable, energy-efficient homes and green travel.

"We will ensure that businesses have the support, and people the skills, to succeed in the low-carbon economy of the future.

"We will show global leadership in tackling the climate crisis and we will offer people an informed choice on Scotland's future."

Key commitments set out by the First Minister for over the course of this Parliament include:

  • increasing frontline health spending by 20%, leading to an increase of at least £2.5 billion by 2026-27
  • undertaking major public service reform to create a National Care Service – with legislation brought forward by June next year
  • improving national wellbeing with increased direct mental health investment of at least 25%, with £120 million this year to support the recovery and transformation of services
  • investing £250 million to tackle the drugs deaths emergency over the next five years
  • expanding the Scottish Child Payment to under-16s by the end of next year and doubling it to £20 a week as soon as possible after that, with a £520 bridging payment given to every child in receipt of free school meals this year
  • investing a further £1 billion to tackle a poverty-related attainment gap and providing councils with funding to recruit 3,500 additional teachers and 500 classroom assistants
  • providing free childcare to low income families before and after school and during holidays, and expanding free early learning and childcare to one and two year olds
  • investing £100 million over the next three years to support frontline services for preventing violence against women and girls
  • providing £1.8 billion to make homes easier and greener to heat, as part of a commitment to decarbonise 1 million homes by 2030
  • ensuring that at least 10% of the total transport budget goes on active travel by 2024-25, helping more people to cycle, wheel or walk instead of drive
  • delivering a revolution in children’s rights, including across the justice system
  • supporting a just transition to a low-carbon economy for people and businesses, including a £500 million Just Transition Fund for the North East and Moray
  • investing an additional £500 million to support the new, good and green jobs of the future, including by helping people access training
  • delivering 110,000 affordable homes by 2032 and investing an additional £50 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping
  • taking forward the democratic mandate for a referendum on independence to be held within this Parliament and, if the Covid crisis is over, within the first half of this Parliament, while providing the people of Scotland with the information they need to make an informed choice on their future

Responding to her statement, Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, accused the First Minister of putting “independence over jobs”.

He Scotland’s priorities have been sidelined and the priority should have been proper plans to support jobs, tackle drug deaths, and remobilise our NHS.

“Nicola Sturgeon has put independence over jobs," he said.

"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."

He added: “The SNP-Green Government should be pouring all its effort into rebuilding Scotland. Instead, the government will be distracted by desperately trying to build a new case for independence.

“Nicola Sturgeon’s big plan for Scotland’s recovery is a new White Paper for independence, instead of a jobs recovery plan, a real plan to tackle drug deaths, or a proper NHS recovery plan.

“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."

The First Minister published a draft bill for a new vote shortly before May’s Holyrood election and the commitment to hold a new referendum before 2026 – so long as the pandemic has passed – was a centrepiece in the SNP’s manifesto ahead of the poll. 

The pledge to hold a referendum in the first half of the current parliament was also included in the shared policy programme with the Greens when the two pro Yes parties signed a co-operation agreement.

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“The Scottish Government and Scottish Green Party believe that independence within the EU would provide the best conditions for Scotland, the people who live here, and future generations, to thrive. We will give people a choice about Scotland’s future in this parliamentary session,” the shared policy programme states.

“The necessity and urgency of independence have been underlined by the Covid pandemic. The full range of powers of an independent country would allow Scotland to put in place a transformational recovery from the pandemic, one which will lead to a fairer and more sustainable and prosperous nation.

“We recognise that a further powerful argument for independence is the undermining and erosion of the devolution settlement and the powers of the Scottish Parliament by the UK Government.”

It adds: “Therefore, we will:

"Secure a referendum on Scottish independence after the Covid crisis. This would be within the current parliamentary session on a specific date to be determined by the Scottish Parliament. If the Covid crisis has passed, our intention is for the referendum to be within the first half of the five-year parliamentary session  

"Work together to make the case that Scotland should be an independent country within the European Union, recognising each party’s right and duty to set out its own arguments for, and visions of, independence

"Protect and enhance the powers and responsibilities of the Scottish Government and Parliament, securing their ability to make decisions in the best interests of Scotland.”