Nicola Sturgeon ‘must abandon plan to publish Independence Referendum Bill’ and focus on Covid

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An independence protestor outside the Scottish Parliament last week - AFP
An independence protestor outside the Scottish Parliament last week – AFP

Nicola Sturgeon must abandon her plan to publish an independence referendum Bill before May’s Holyrood election as Scotland tackles the mutant strain of Covid, Douglas Ross has demanded.

The Scottish Tory leader said the First Minister’s plan to publish draft legislation for another separation vote was “more absurd than ever” as Covid cases surge to a new high.

He argued it would be “irresponsible in the extreme” to divert civil servants to working on the Bill when their attention should be focused on vaccine delivery, education and protecting jobs.

His call was echoed by Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, who said her independence campaign should be “locked down” with the rest of the country.

Mr Rennie pointed out that Ms Sturgeon suspended her campaign for separation during the first lockdown and argued she must do so again when “the country and the NHS are in an even more perilous situation.”

Their intervention came shortly after the First Minister reiterated that Scotland was at its most dangerous point in the pandemic since last spring, with the new Covid strain triggering a huge rise in cases over recent weeks.

However, she insisted that May’s Holyrood election should go ahead as planned. Ms Sturgeon plans to ask voters for a mandate for another independence vote.

She hopes to use this to force Boris Johnson to give her the powers for a legal referendum, with the Bill ready to be enacted. However, he said last weekend another separation vote should not be staged until 2055.

Jim Sillars, a former SNP deputy leader, also urged Ms Sturgeon to “deprioritise” independence and focus instead of tackling the economic devastation caused by the pandemic.

But, speaking on Channel 4 News on Monday, the First Minister said the pandemic was an “opportunity” for Scots to question how they want to be governed in future and “that of course brings to the fore the question of independence.”

One of the Scottish Government’s civil service-administered Twitter accounts also highlighted an article she wrote for French newspaper Le Figaro in which she argued for another separation vote.

Mr Ross said: “The SNP’s choice to prioritise their Indyref Bill is more absurd than ever when the country is in lockdown and people across Scotland only care about fighting this pandemic.

“There is so little time left in this term and the Parliament’s essential work will clearly be limited by the impact of Covid-19 restrictions.”

He added: “We can’t waste time on the same constitutional arguments of the last 13 years when all our attention should be on moving on from this pandemic.”

Mr Rennie said: “Civil servants are being put to work right now on the SNP’s next Independence Bill.  That is the wrong priority for government. That work and any other work on independence should cease without delay.”

A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said: “We have a Programme for Government commitment to publish a Bill before the end of this current parliament, to set out the terms of a future referendum clearly and unambiguously. 

“Such a referendum will allow the people of Scotland to choose who is best to lead them out of the current crisis and to oversee the rebuilding of the country after the pandemic.”

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