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Nicola Sturgeon sets out plans for independence referendum draft bill in 2021

Nicola Sturgeon also announced a raft of measures to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Image: Jane Barlow/PA Wire/PA Images

A NEW DRAFT bill paving the way for a possible second Scottish independence referendum will be published before next May’s Holyrood elections, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

The Scottish First Minister revealed that draft legislation, setting out the proposed terms and timing for a second independence vote, as well as the question that could be asked, will be produced by the Scottish Government.

The announcement came as part of her programme for government statement, much of which was dominated by the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sturgeon revealed plans to introduce Protect Scotland, a new proximity tracing app, as part of efforts to improve Covid-19 contact tracing.

She 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 First Minister announced the creation of a £100 million Green Jobs Fund, and confirmed a Youth Guarantee scheme, which will see £60 million of Scottish Government cash help provide all those aged 16 to 24 with either a job or a place in education or training.

Also on jobs, a National Transition Training Fund will support up to 10,000 people at risk of redundancy or unemployment, she said.

To help the environment, as well as encouraging people towards healthier lifestyles, Sturgeon promised £500 million of investment over the next five years to support active travel, such as walking and cycling.

She went on to pledge a “new 20-year vision for good quality, zero carbon housing with access to community services, transport links and green space” adding that the Scottish Government would invest £275 million in community-led regeneration and revitalising town centres.

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 Covid” when laying out her government’s plans, she also asked Scots to “seize this moment to imagine and start to build a better future”.

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.”

However her plans for a draft bill ahead of a possible second independence referendum attracted criticism from her opponents.

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 at the end of this year, 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.”

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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.”

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