Nicola Sturgeon yesterday urged SNP activists to campaign with courtesy and respect as she told them many Scots would not be relishing her plans for a second independence vote.
The SNP leader admitted people would be feeling “nervous, anxious and perhaps even resentful” over her decision to break the SNP’s pledge that a referendum should be a once in a generation event.
Ahead of this week’s parliamentary vote that will see a majority of MSPs back another independence poll, Sturgeon acknowledged that for many the 2014 referendum had not been a pleasant experience.
But faced with a hard Brexit, Sturgeon said she had taken the decision to “put the people in charge”.
After attempting to reach out to No voters in her speech to the SNP conference, the First Minister then received a huge ovation as she insisted “there will be a referendum”.
She also issued an invitation to people from the rest of the UK to move to Scotland if they were fed up with the Conservative government and Brexit.
Prime Minister Theresa May came under fire for standing in the way of her proposal to have a vote between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.
But with her opponents warning her against another divisive referendum, Sturgeon attempted to appeal to No voters by promising she would address the economic challenges posed by independence.
Sturgeon told delegates it was their job to reach out to those who were unpersuaded about independence and understand their “hopes, fears and ambition”.
“We all want the best for our country,” Sturgeon said. “We just have different views on how to achieve it. As Scotland’s government we bear a special responsibility to offer a hand across these differences, to build consensus where we can. So let us resolve our case with passion and commitment, yes, but at all times with courtesy, understanding and respect.”
Having said she intends to put Scotland through another vote, Sturgeon acknowledged the last one had been unnerving for many.
“I know that for every one of us who is full of excitement and anticipation, there will be someone else feeling nervous and anxious, perhaps even resentful,” Sturgeon said.
“In the last few years it has been one big decision after another. You have been bombarded with statistics, claims and counterclaims. You might have had heated discussion with friends and family.
“Even though you may feel – like we do – that 2014 was a positive and vibrant exercise of democracy, you might not relish going through it all over again. I understand that. So I want you to know I did not reach the decision lightly.”
Sturgeon blamed the Prime Minister’s “condescension and inflexibility” towards the Scottish Government’s attempts to maintain Scotland’s relationship with the EU.
With difficulties faced by the North Sea oil industry and questions remaining about an independent Scotland’s currency, Sturgeon said economic challenges had to be addressed.
“In the debate about our future, the people of Scotland deserve to hear us speak frankly about the challenges facing the Scottish economy – the challenges of independence – and the challenges we will face under an austerity obsessed Tory government pursuing a hard Brexit.”
Sturgeon told activists to “embrace that scrutiny”.
She said: “Opponents of independence, as is their right, will make their case by highlighting what they see as the difficulties. It will be up to us to demonstrate how those difficulties can be overcome.”
During an impassioned attack on the Brexit vote, Sturgeon said she had received messages from people elsewhere in the UK asking if they could move to Scotland.
Sturgeon argued that Scotland would become a “magnet” for talent and investment across the UK, if it stayed in the EU single market.
“Let me issue this open invitation today,” she said. “Scotland isn’t full up. If you are as appalled as we are at the path this Westminster government is taking, come and join us. Come to live, work, invest or study. Come to Scotland and be part of a modern, progressive, outward-looking country.”
Her speech included three policy announcements. The First Minister promised to increase the Scottish Government’s mental health budget by £35 million.
The extra cash would pay for 800 additional mental health workers in hospitals, prisons, GP surgeries and police stations.
Her childcare programme would see the extension of the real living wage for staff working in the 1,000 private nurseries helping to deliver the government’s free childcare programme.
Sturgeon said it had been estimated that if Scotland made better use of cloud technology and big data the economy would benefit to the tune of £5 billion a year. So she announced a £35m fund to build digital skills in the workforce.
But Sturgeon’s continued focus on the constitutional question at the expense of issues affecting the country, including education and child poverty, failed to impress her opponents from other political parties.
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “This is the week that Nicola Sturgeon gave up being First Minister and instead put her obsession with independence before the day job.
“This was a disappointing and negative speech. We now have a part-time First Minister claiming to speak for Scotland, but in fact pursuing her own narrow agenda to the detriment and against the wishes of ordinary Scots.”
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “Her attempt at wooing the majority of Scots who oppose her bid to leave the UK will fool nobody. The SNP still stands for division and grievance. If Nicola Sturgeon truly wants to listen to the people of Scotland, she will take the threat of a second independence referendum off the table.”