Nicola Sturgeon avoids talk of new Scottish independence vote

First minister focuses on domestic issues at three-day party conference in Glasgow

 Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon  said she wanted a second vote on independence soon after Brexit but gave no detail on timing.  Photograph: EPA/Robert Perry

Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon said she wanted a second vote on independence soon after Brexit but gave no detail on timing. Photograph: EPA/Robert Perry

 

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon focused on domestic issues rather than the prospect of a second independence referendum at the end of the Scottish National Party’s three-day conference in Glasgow.

In her keynote address, Ms Sturgeon announced the creation of a publicly-owned energy company and an expansion of free early learning and childcare, and confirmed the lifting of the one per cent pay cap on public service workers announced last month.

The Scottish first minister told her party – which has controlled the devolved Scottish parliament in Edinburgh since 2007 – to prepare for 10 more years in power.

“If the last year has taught us anything it is this: in an age of rapid global change we cannot afford to be bystanders,” Ms Sturgeon told a packed hall at the SECC in Glasgow. “And, yes, it means campaigning for independence. But it also means acting and governing today.”

Ms Sturgeon said she wanted a second vote on independence soon after Brexit but gave no detail on timing.

“We are the party of independence. The case for independence doesn’t depend on Brexit. But Brexit does show us what can happen when we don’t control our own future,” she said.

Referendum

Earlier this year, the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh voted to hold a new independence referendum in the wake of the Brexit vote. But the SNP has been on the back foot since losing 21 seats in the UK general election in June.

Polls suggest the prospect of leaving the European Union – which most Scots voted against – has not significantly increased support for independence.

Against this backdrop the conference mood was noticeably flatter than in recent years. Some of the SNP’s more than 100,000 members would like to see independence as soon as possible. Privately, senior Scottish nationalist figures have complained that grassroots activists have been inactive.

From the conference stage, SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson, who lost his Westminster seat to the Conservatives in June, told activists to “get out there and work. [We] must communicate ever more effectively with voters about the issues which really matter to them.”

Earlier in the day, 23-year-old MP Mhairi Black won rapturous applause for a blistering attack on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“Jeremy Corbyn and I actively agree on quite a lot of things which is why I hope what I’m about to say is taken with the sincerity with which it’s intended,” Ms Black said. “I am so disappointed with Jeremy Corbyn, so disappointed.”

She accused Mr Corbyn of spreading “fear and utter drivel” about the outcome of an independent Scotland and said “if you’re going to call for an end to austerity, don’t release a manifesto scrapping only £2 billion out of a total £9 billion’s worth of planned Tory cuts”.

EU support

Elsewhere on the conference margins there was criticism for the SNP’s wholehearted support for the European Union. The party has said that an independent Scotland would look to rejoin the EU but some nationalists are angry that the EU has insisted the situation in Catalonia is “an internal matter for Spain”.

On Europe, the SNP has said Scotland should remain in the customs union and the single market after Brexit. SNP Brexit minister Mike Russell said there was no such thing as a good Brexit.

“Brexit is based on a false construct, that in some way the European Union is holding countries back from achieving their potential. The opposite is the case.”

He said the UK government “don’t have a grip on what is happening”.

Despite recent setbacks, the SNP remains the most popular party in Scotland. Recent polls put the party 17 points ahead of second-placed Labour, but suggest the Scottish parliament could lose its pro-independence majority in 2021.