Dismissing criticism that she is being “too cautious” over the independence cause, Scotland’s first minister stressed the immediate focus needed to be on recovering from the coronavirus pandemic and reopening the economy.
It comes as voters prepare to head to the polls next week in a swathe of elections across the UK, including Scotland where the public will decide its parliament representatives in the first major electoral test since December 2019.
“I’m not proposing a referendum right now, and I’m certainly not proposing a referendum while the country is still dealing with the crisis of Covid,” Ms Sturgeon insisted on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“My focus, if I’m re-elected next week, is to steer us through Covid and into recovery. Some of my critics in the independence movement do say that I’m too cautious on that front, but actually I think it is a good thing to be cautious when we’re talking about a health crisis and of course the future of the country”.
Earlier this month the Alba Party – led by the former first minister Alex Salmond – vowed to immediately lay a motion instructing the Scottish government to begin independence negotiations with Westminster if the newly formed party returns any MSPs at the Holyrood elections.
“Immediately [after] the new Scottish government is formed it should begin to negotiate with Westminster on both the delivery of a referendum and the terms of independence,” the Alba Party document stated.
Mr Salmond also took aim at his successor’s strategy, saying his party was established to “bring urgency into the timetable for delivering independence for Scotland” and ensure there is “no more backsliding on timetables”.
Pressed on the proposal, Ms Sturgeon said: “The polls right now and I accept that polls are polls and it’s votes that count suggest that’s not going to be the reality next week. Alba are polling at two, three per cent or thereabouts. But we’ll see what the election throws up next Thursday.”
She added: “People who are serious about achieving independence I think understand that. And I actually think talk of supermajorities and gaming the system and trying to bulldoze our way to independence almost regardless of the state of public opinion risks putting those that we need to persuade in the case for independence off.”
The SNP’s manifesto for the 2021 elections states that “after the pandemic is over in Scotland” the priority will be “how to recover and rebuild”.
“The SNP believes that it should be people in Scotland – no matter where they come from – and not Boris Johnson or any Westminster government, who must have the right to decide the sort of country we should become after the pandemic.
“We want to give people in Scotland the right to choose their own future through an independence referendum. We propose that the referendum should be held once the Covid crisis has passed but in good time to decide that we want to equip our parliament with the powers it needs to drive our long term recovery from Covid.”
Speaking to reporters on Friday following Ms Sturgeon’s interview, the Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, said: “As we are seeking to support businesses, to protect jobs, to do everything to build back from this pandemic, Nicola Sturgeon would be trying to draft out a case for separation when all of Scottish politics should be focused on our recovery.
“Simply, you can’t do them both and I think that is the biggest issue for the nationalists: they are trying to sell a vision of an independent Scotland without explaining how they would get there.”
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