Boris issued warning shot as Nicola Sturgeon outlines how she plans to secure independence

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Opening the SNP’s annual conference today amid the Coronavirus pandemic, Nicola Sturgeon stressed Scotland was ready to demonstrate its position on the world stage as an independent country. Ms Sturgeon said Scotland was on the “cusp of making history” as she hinted a second vote could take place as early as next year.

But Boris Johnson has insisted he will not hand her the power to hold a vote, even if the SNP wins a majority in next May’s Holyrood election.

Leader of the House of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg also said “Blairite constitutional tinkering” had weakened the UK Parliament and “helped to divide the United Kingdom.”

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Rees-Mogg, said: “The last Labour Government decided to take a wrecking ball to our constitution and made a bit of a muddle with it.”

He said some of their most “foolish interventions” were their “constitutional blunders” on creating the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

He concluded: “I hope that this Government find an effective way of restoring our constitution to its proper form.”

But Ms Sturgeon said: “The question for all of us as we look ahead to the election next May is this: who should be taking the decisions that will shape our futures?

“We know that it is the people who live here, wherever they come from, who can best harness Scotland’s immense human and natural resources to the benefit of everyone.”

She made clear this weekend and over the next few months – “let us reach out – to all of Scotland – like never before.”

She continued: “Let us demonstrate – with cool heads and with patient persuasion – that Scotland is ready to take its place in the global family of independent nations.

“Scotland is now a nation on the cusp of making history.

“Independence is in clear sight – and with unity of purpose, humility and hard work I have never been so certain that we will deliver it.”

Ms Sturgeon stressed the people of Scotland had the right to choose their future, and concluded: “Let’s now focus all our efforts on making sure we bring about that better country they and future generations deserve.

“An independent future lies ahead – lets grasp it.”

She added the primary focus was to eliminate “COVID-19 from our shores” – for which we have renewed hope – Scotland must be ready for what comes next. And I know we will be.

But last night, opposition members said instead of focusing on independence, the First Minister of Scotland to apologise for “broken promises to the people of Scotland”.

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Ian Murray MP, Shadow Scottish Secretary, said: “She is leading a government that is treating Holyrood with contempt, refusing to be transparent with voters.

“As her supporters gather to pat themselves on the back, hundreds of skilled workers are facing unemployment after the nationalists abandoned the green industrial jobs they pledged to protect.

“And the Scottish Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in test and trace failures, cover-ups, care home scandals, a litany of education failings, and a death rate that is among the worst in Europe.

“When she takes to the stage, Nicola Sturgeon should apologise for her broken promises to the people of Scotland.”

Scottish Conservative constitution representative Dean Lockhart, said: “It is clear where the priorities lie for the SNP ahead of their conference- another divisive independence referendum.

“Constant talk of another independence is completely reckless.” 

Anas Sarwar MSP, Scottish Labour’s Constitution spokesperson, added: “This proves that Nicola Sturgeon only has one priority – dividing the people of Scotland.” 

A total of 14 opinion polls since June have suggested a majority now favour Scottish independence, with 54 to 55 per cent backing Yes on average.

These polls have also suggested Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s unpopularity north of the Border and Brexit increasing level of support for independence.

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “Issuing a rallying cry for independence when people across Scotland are struggling with the devastating impact of the pandemic is therefore deeply insulting.

“This weekend, the SNP is only talking to itself – not to the country.

“Seeking to divide us with another referendum is the wrong priority, and it is not the priority of the people of Scotland.”

This weekend’s SNP conference has been marred by division on key issues including the debate on independence referendum strategy, with suggestions already put forward to have a “Plan B” option for a vote.

In a lecture ahead of the vote, SNP justice spokesperson and lawyer Joanna Cherry called for Holyrood to hold a second independence referendum without agreement.

Speaking last night, the QC and MP said: “It is my view that if the pro-independence referendum parties obtain a majority at the Scottish election next year and the PM refuses to come to the table to negotiate a second Edinburgh Agreement, the avenue which the FM contemplated earlier this year should be pursued.”

She stressed it “would require a carefully crafted bill to be piloted through Holyrood” and there would be “the inevitable legal challenge”.

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