Nicola Sturgeon has said the SNP’s goal of independence for Scotland is “clearly in sight”, as she hit out at the “chaos and incompetence” of Westminster.
The Scottish First Minister closed her party’s annual conference in Glasgow with an address in which she compared the future Scotland could have outside of the UK to that offered by the Conservatives and Brexit.
She attacked the Tories on their policies on issues such as immigration and social security, saying: “Westminster hasn’t delivered strength and security.
“It has brought chaos, incompetence and confusion.”
With the UK’s departure date from the European Union now less than six months away, and with tens of thousands of campaigners having marched through Edinburgh in support of independence just days ago, the First Minister said she was “more confident than ever that Scotland will be independent”.
But with her Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell having earlier said supporters would have to wait for the “right moment” for a second referendum, Ms Sturgeon made clear more details about Brexit need to be known before such a vote could take place.
She accused Theresa May’s government of a “disgraceful failure of leadership” on this and added: “The future relationship between the UK and the EU will determine the context in which Scotland would become independent. And so the detail of that will shape some of the answers that people want.
“As we wait – impatiently, at times, I know – for this phase of negotiations to conclude and for the fog of Brexit to clear, be in no doubt about this. The last two years have shown why Scotland needs to be independent.
“And I am more confident than ever that Scotland will be independent.”
She blasted the UK Government for taking Holyrood ministers to the Supreme Court, after the Scottish Parliament refused to back the UK’s EU Withdrawal Bill and instead passed its own Brexit legislation.
“That is Westminster control,” the First Minister declared.
And she hailed independence as being the “opposite of Brexit”, offering Scotland the chance to have a “real partnership” with other countries across Europe and the world.
While much of her 50-minute long address focused on the big issues of Brexit and independence, the First Minister included a number of policy announcements.
Bursaries for student nurses – which were retained in Scotland after being scrapped south of the border – will be increased from £6,500 a year to £10,000 a year by the year 2020-21.
Such a move will help Scotland attract more people into nursing when the recruitment challenge which already faces the health service becomes more challenging in the wake of Brexit.
That was welcomed by the Royal College of Nursing, whose Scotland director Theresa Fyffe said:
“The increased bursary is an important step in valuing those who choose to nurse and in making nursing an attractive career.”
Meanwhile the charity Social Bite will receive £6.5 million for work to help vulnerable people with complex needs find a settled place to stay. This money, Ms Sturgeon told the conference, will help “800 people to be lifted out of homelessness for good”.
To help small to medium sized businesses looking to expand and modernise, she revealed up to £18 million of European cash would be used by the Scottish Government to set up an advanced manufacturing fund – saying that by doing this the SNP were “reindustrialising Scotland”.
But the Tories claimed there was little in the speech apart from independence, with Conservative MSP Annie Wells branding it “a tired speech from a tired government which has run out of ideas, apart from the only one they’ve ever had”.
She added: “Nicola Sturgeon asked her supporters to stay patient – the truth is that most people lost patience with the SNP a long time ago.
“Astonishingly, in a speech littered with references to independence, there was just a glancing reference to education.
“It was a staggering omission and it tells you all you need to know. Education isn’t her number one priority – the only priority the SNP has is separating our country in two.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said while education was the “supposed top priority” of Ms Sturgeon’s government, this had “barely merited a passing mention” in her speech.
Meanwhile Pamela Nash, chief executive of the pro-UK Scotland in Union group, said: “Nicola Sturgeon made it clear what her only goal is – independence at any cost.”
Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton also hit out, saying: “Nicola Sturgeon needs to stop trying to turn Brexit into the break-up of the UK.”
But Mark Ruskell MSP from the pro-independence Scottish Greens said: “Brexit is already causing chaos and will result in an unprecedented loss of civil rights.
“Independence in the EU is the right choice for Scotland, giving us self-determination whilst working with neighbours to build a better Europe.”