The first minister and SNP leader said she intended to deliver a second referendum before the end of 2023 and promised Scots a “detailed prospectus” on how an independent Scotland would work.
Boris Johnson’s government remains firmly opposed to granting indyref2, but Ms Sturgeon claimed a democratic mandate for a second vote was “beyond question”.
Setting out her government’s programme for the year ahead, the SNP leader said was determined to give Scots another say on separation once the Covid recovery was under way.
“Our aim is that it will be in the first half of this parliament, before the end of 2023,” Ms Sturgeon told MSPs at Holyrood on Tuesday.
She added: “I can confirm that the Scottish government will now restart work on the detailed prospectus ... The case for independence is a strong one and we will present it openly, frankly and with confidence and ambition.”
Ms Sturgeon’s announcement follows eyebrow-raising remarks by one of her economic advisers, who said that it could take decades to stabilise Scotland’s economy from disruption in the event of a “yes” vote a second independence referendum.
Mark Blyth – professor of international economics at the Watson Institute of Brown University in Rhode Island – told the Foreign Press Association that independence could be “Brexit times ten” because of Scotland’s deep economic ties to the UK.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross accused Ms Sturgeon of putting her push for indyref2 “ahead of our recovery,” adding: “The fact that this government cannot park its obsession … tells us everything we need to know about Nicola Sturgeon and her priorities.”
Meanwhile, the first minister confirmed the Scottish government will introduce legislation for a National Care Service north of the border, while funding for social care will increase by £800m over the next five years.
She told MSPs the new service would be up and running by the end of the current parliament in 2026, describing it as “the most significant public service reform since the creation of the NHS”.
The first minister also confirmed plans for free “wraparound” childcare for low-income families aimed at helping more parents get back into work.
The Scottish child payment, a £10 a week benefit which goes to help hard-up families, will be doubled to £20 a week as “early within the life of the parliament as possible”, the first minister added.
The programme for government is the first of the new administration following a cooperation agreement between the SNP and Scottish Greens, formalising a majority in support of independence at Holyrood.
Ahead of the Cop26 conference in Glasgow this November, Ms Sturgeon said tackling the climate emergency remained a “moral and economic imperative” – outlining plans for the decarbonisation of one million homes by 2030.
She went on to pledge £1.8bn over the next five years to make “homes and buildings easier and greener to heat” and £3.5bn over the period to help build an additional 110,000 affordable homes.
Ms Sturgeon also announced that controversial reforms to gender recognition will go ahead. The Gender Recognition Bill plans to reduce the time it takes for transgender people to get a certificate recognising their gender to six months.
Applicants would first have to live as their acquired gender for a minimum of three months before seeking a gender recognition certificate, with a further three-month period of “reflection” required before it can be confirmed.
The SNP leader said: “It will make the existing process of gender recognition less degrading, intrusive and traumatic.”
She also confirmed that a bill would be brought forward to pardon miners convicted of offences in Scotland during the bitter strike action of 1984 and 1985. “I hope this will bring closure to those convicted, their families, and the communities affected,” she said.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said Ms Sturgeon’s programme for the years ahead lacked ambition. “This isn’t good enough, it isn’t bold enough and it won’t do enough. It’s a tired and rehashed programme from a party that’s clearly run out of big ideas.”
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