Nicola Sturgeon promises new draft Bill for Indyref2

1 September 2020, 18:32 | Updated: 1 September 2020, 19:00

Nicola Sturgeon has promised a draft Bill for a possible second Scottish independence referendum
Nicola Sturgeon has promised a draft Bill for a possible second Scottish independence referendum. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has promised to publish a new draft Bill for a possible second Scottish independence referendum.

The Scottish leader said the legislation would be mapped out before next May's Holyrood elections and will be drawn up by her government.

It will set out the proposed terms and timing for a second vote on Scotland's future, and it will establish the question to be asked in the ballot.

She said she will "make the case for Scotland to become an independent country" at next year's Holyrood election and will "seek a clear endorsement of Scotland's right to choose our own future".

However, the planned legislation attracted criticism from her opponents, including Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross who said Scotland needed to be taken forward "together" without focusing on "the divisions of the past".

Ms Sturgeon's announcement came during her programme for government statement which was dominated by the nation's response to the coronavirus pandemic - which she described as "our most immediate priority".

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The first minister revealed the introduction of a new proximity tracing app called Protect Scotland which will help efforts to improve Covid-19 contact tracing.

Ms Sturgeon also promised the "immediate establishment of a comprehensive independent review of adult social care", adding that this would "set out options for the creation of a national care service".

The SNP leader announced a £100 million Green Jobs Fund, and confirmed a Youth Guarantee scheme, which will see £60 million invested by her government into providing all those aged between 16 and 24 with either a job or a place in education or training.

A National Transition Training Fund will also support up to 10,000 people at risk of redundancy or unemployment, she said.

On the environment, the first minister and her government will encourage people to take up healthier lifestyles, while also promising to invest £500 million over the next five years to support active travel, such as cycling and walking.

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She then pledged a "new 20-year vision for good quality, zero-carbon housing with access to community services, transport links and green space".

The Scottish Government will do this by investing £275 million in community-led regeneration and revitalising town centres, she said.

A new national infrastructure investment plan will be published later this month, she said, "setting out the framework for £32 billion of infrastructure investment over the next five years".

Meanwhile, to tackle Scotland's "digital divide", she vowed by the end of 2021 the Connecting Scotland scheme set up to provide laptops and tablets to poorer Scots would be expanded, so that up to 50,000 people can benefit from new electronic devices, training in how to use them and unlimited data.

The First Minister said, while it "would be easy to focus on nothing but coronavirus" when laying out her government's plans, she also asked Scots to "seize this moment to imagine and start to build a better future".

The first minister said coronavirus still remains Scotland's top priority
The first minister said coronavirus still remains Scotland's top priority. Picture: PA

She stated: "This is a programme for government which prepares us for what may well be a difficult winter.

"But it also encourages us to lift our eyes, find hope in our hearts, and plan for brighter days ahead."

Ms Sturgeon said, before the end of this current Holyrood term, her government "will publish a draft Bill, setting out the proposed terms and timing of an independence referendum, as well as the proposed question that people will be asked in that referendum".

With Scottish Parliament elections taking place in May she added: "At next year's election, we will make the case for Scotland to become an independent country, and seek a clear endorsement of Scotland's right to choose our own future."

The first minister insisted Brexit "and the way in which it is being implemented" by the UK Government "immeasurably strengthens the case for Scotland becoming an independent country".

Westminster's failure to seek an extension to the transition period, forcing this to come to an end on 31 December, is an "act of self-sabotage which we do not understand", she added.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross responded by tweeting: "The First Minister just doesn't get it.

"We need to take Scotland forward and recover from this crisis together, not go back to the divisions of the past."

Meanwhile, Labour's shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said the proposed draft Referendum Bill was a "reckless announcement" which shows the first minister's "top priority is to divide the people of Scotland".

The Labour MP said: "All her focus should be on post-Covid recovery, not returning to the old politics of division that will harm Scotland's society and economy.

"Re-opening the constitutional debate will do nothing to help our NHS recover from the pandemic, or help the children who have lost months of education, or help grow our economy."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said that the announcement of a new Bill on Scottish independence "got the loudest applause of the afternoon" from SNP MSPs, adding: "That tells you all about their priorities."