Nicola Sturgeon said yesterday that her belief that Scotland will become independent is stronger than ever as she urged the country to unite behind her vision of an inclusive nation.
The SNP leader promised there would be a second independence referendum if there’s a hard Brexit and declared the “time is coming” to put “Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands”.
Her keynote speech to the SNP conference in Glasgow saw Sturgeon intensify her indyref2 rhetoric as well as announce policies that chimed with her attempts to contrast the political ideologies of the SNP with the those of the Conservatives.
In a playful interlude she said: “If you remember just one word from my speech today, I want it to be this one.It begins with an ‘I’.
“No, not that one! Not yet.
“The word I want you to remember is this – inclusion.”
At the heart of her efforts to highlight her approach was an emotional pledge to do more for the most vulnerable children by setting up root and branch reform of the care system.
Sturgeon claimed the SNP’s pursuit of “welcoming, progressive, open, outward looking and inclusive” differed from the Conservatives’ “xenophobic, closed, inward looking [and] discriminatory” approach.
A key theme throughout the largest conference in SNP history has been Sturgeon’s promotion of the idea that Scotland has a more caring society than that proposed by the “hard right” Brexiteers.
She pledged to work with other parties to try to “save” the UK from a hard Brexit. But her promise came with a warning that a second referendum would be triggered if Scotland was ejected from the single market.
“We will propose new powers to help keep Scotland in the single market even if the UK leaves,” said Sturgeon. “But if the Tory government rejects these efforts – if it insists on taking Scotland down a path that hurts our economy, costs jobs, lowers our living standards and damages our reputation as an open, welcoming, diverse country – then be in no doubt. Scotland must have the ability to choose a better future and I will make sure that Scotland gets that chance.”
She added: “I have never doubted that Scotland will one day become an independent country and I believe it today more strongly than I ever have before.”
In a pitch to No voters who might be flirting with independence, Sturgeon said Scots could work together – whatever their stance on the Scottish constitutional question – to respond to the challenges created by Brexit.
“There are many No voters now looking at the Brexit vote with real dismay and wondering if independence might be the best option for Scotland after all. Let’s build on that common ground,” said Sturgeon.
Outlining her vision for an inclusive Scotland, Sturgeon pledged root-and-branch reform of Scotland’s care system. Her voice cracked when she revealed that she had been spending time with young people who had grown up in care.
“Their stories have moved me deeply,” she said.
The SNP leader highlighted statistics showing that only six per cent of children in care go to university, nearly half will suffer mental health problems and that half the adult prison population are people who lived in care as youngsters.
“Worst of all,” she said, “and this breaks my heart: a young person who has been in care is 20 times more likely to be dead by the time they are 25 than a young person who hasn’t.
“My view is simple: every young person deserves to be loved. So let’s come together and make this commitment: to love our most vulnerable children and give them the childhood they deserve.”
The First Minister also used her speech to announce a major childcare reform which is likely to encounter local authority resistance.
As part of the Scottish Government’s childcare package, parents will be given the freedom to choose a childminder or nursery.
Currently councils decide what childcare places are offered to parents.
“Firstly we will propose that parents can choose a nursery or childminder that best suits their needs and – as long as the provider meets agreed standards – ask the local authority to fund it. In other words, the funding will follow the child, not the other way round. Second, as suggested by Children in Scotland’s Childcare Commission, we will propose that parents can opt to receive funding in a childcare account and then use it to purchase a suitable place directly.”
Other new polices announced were an extra £500 million to be invested in GPs and health centres and a plan to foster trade links.
But Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson claimed the SNP were stealing Conservative policies and attacked Sturgeon for raising the prospect of a second referendum. “We’ve spent years arguing childcare funding should follow the child; in August we proposed increasing primary care funding as part of the NHS budget,” said Davidson.
“It’s further proof that the SNP has completely run out of ideas, because it only has one – breaking up Britain.”
Labour’s Iain Gray called on the SNP leader’s reforms to go further. “Labour has led the debate around improving support for looked after children for years, and a review of the entire system is one we welcome,” he said. “We would ask the First Minister to go a step further and put improving outcomes for looked after children at the heart of the country’s attainment strategy. That is why Labour said it should be considered in school inspections.”