Nicola Sturgeon and Douglas Ross clash in election debate
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In correspondence, the SNP leader said to Scottish Government civil servants on February 2 that work on the Independence Referendum Bill must “commence immediately”. The Scottish Independence Referendum Bill, published last month, stipulates the next Scottish Parliament should decide the timing of any referendum.
The draft bill states the question asked should be the same as at the 2014 referendum – “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
Commenting, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said: “It’s a jaw-dropping disgrace that Nicola Sturgeon chose to kick-start her indyref2 Bill while Scotland was stuck in lockdown under the stay-at-home order.
“When hundreds of Scots were still losing their lives to Covid, the SNP started to ramp up efforts to hold another referendum.
“They only have one priority. They are fixated on independence at the expense of everything else. The first chance that the SNP get, they will wreck our recovery.”
Under the draft bill, it would also extend voting eligibility to match the franchise at Scottish Parliament and local government elections, which is age 16.
Scottish Government officials say in the bill that a second vote should be held “within the first half of the next parliamentary term when it is safe to do so” which is 30 months.
The bill says if there is a majority of politicians in the Scottish Parliament after May’s election for an independence referendum then “there can be no democratic justification whatsoever for any Westminster government to seek to block a post-pandemic referendum.”
Dr Penny Curtis, deputy director of elections at the Scottish Government, asked in a memo to Ms Sturgeon on February 2 to ”confirm that you are content that work on preparing the draft Bill should start now”.
Responding, Nicola Sturgeon said for it to be published before the election, work “needs to commence imminently”.
Mr Ross also said the SNP’s plans to hold a second referendum and deliver independence would be irreversible.
He warned the Holyrood election on Thursday “has more at stake than any other”.
Writing for this publication today, Mr Ross said the SNP would be “making foreigners out of friends and family” if it managed to win a majority and gain independence.
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He also urged the electorate to vote tactically to prevent the pro-independence party from taking most of the seats in Holyrood.
He said: “Scotland stands on the brink. This election is not about just the next five years but a generation that has been hit hard by a global pandemic and a vote that could change Scotland’s future forever.
“If the SNP win a majority, they will not just be focused on delivering an independence referendum, but also building the case to persuade us of the need for separation.
“That can only distract attention and divert resources away from our recovery.”
Nicola Sturgeon heckled by Douglas Ross on answering question
But Willie Rennie, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader claimed the party would “make the difference” between a Holyrood parliament focused on recovery rather than an independence referendum.
Speaking this morning, Mr Rennie stressed he would vote against holding another referendum even if the SNP won a majority at the Holyrood election on Thursday.
He said it was “very democratic” because that is the position his voters were backing.
Mr Rennie added: “I’m against another referendum because I think it will distract the country at a time they need to build recovery.
“If people vote for me on the basis that I’m clear – crystal clear – in an election campaign, it would be bizarre if I did the opposite after the election.”
However, Nicola Sturgeon pledged that she was getting her priorities right when it came to tackling COVID-19.
Speaking on the BBC’s The Sunday Show, Ms Sturgeon said: “Opposition politicians can’t have it both ways.
“They can say I should have spent the last year focusing on COVID, which I’ve done, and then say you should have spent the last year developing the plan for independence.
“Thursday is not an independence referendum, it’s not asking people to vote yes or no. When we ask people to make that choice, just as we did in 2014, we will put forward a detailed perspective.”
Ms Sturgeon, who has promised another referendum once the health crisis of coronavirus has passed, stated: “Recovery is not separate to who takes the decisions and where power lies.
“If we don’t decide to take the longer-term recovery into our own hands, the real risk, just as was the case after the financial crash, is we have got another decade of Tory austerity.
“I have tried my best to steer this country through a COVID pandemic for a year. I will do that, every waking moment of mine will be focused on that for as long as it takes.
“But when we get over the crisis, it actually matters to our long-term recovery.”
The latest poll on Scottish independence commissioned by The Herald on Sunday and undertaken by BMG this week shows a dramatic split on the independence question.
Both Yes and No are at 50 percent, once undecided voters are removed
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