Nicola Sturgeon has said she is “confident” of winning a second referendum as she announced the SNP will lead a renewed debate for independence ahead of this year’s Scottish election.
The First Minister made the claim as she kick-started the SNP’s drive to win this year’s Scottish election in a speech yesterday at Holyrood as MSPs sat for the first time in 2016.
The SNP must be held to its pledge to guarantee that there must be no second referendum for a generationRuth Davidson
Addressing the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon indicated she thought Scottish independence could be achieved in the “next few years”.
Her comments came after Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale launched her party’s election campaign saying she expected Ms Sturgeon to “keep her promise” that the May poll would not be about independence.
Ms Dugdale’s expectations proved unfounded when Ms Sturgeon led a SNP debate on “supporting public services, tackling inequality and growing Scotland’s equality”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “We will use the powers we have as a government to the full. Of course, I believe today as strongly as I ever have that independence is the best future for our country. That’s why in the months to come we will also lead a renewed debate about how the enduring principle of that case, that decisions about Scotland are best taken by people who live here, is relevant to, demanded by, the circumstances of the world we live in today.
“We will make that case positively and powerfully and we will do it in a realistic and relevant way and in doing so I’m confident that over the next few years we will build majority support for that proposition.”
Before the debate, Ms Dugdale had given a speech to Labour activists at Edinburgh University outlining her party’s approach to the forthcoming election.
She confirmed her plans to give £3,000 to first time home buyers to help them on to the property ladder. Ms Dugdale also said she took assurances from Ms Sturgeon that there would not be another referendum before 2021 in good faith.
Ms Dugdale said: “Let me say this to Nicola Sturgeon, on the constitution I will take her at her word. She has said again and again that she does not want another referendum that she isn’t planning another referendum, and that this election is not about independence. On that we can agree.”
The Holyrood debate saw the party leaders attempt to position their parties ahead of the election, with Ms Sturgeon pledging to fight it on the SNP’s record, ideas and vision.
But the SNP’s performance after almost a decade in government was attacked by Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems.
Ruth Davidson of the Scottish Conservatives spoke of her ambition to replace Labour as the main party of opposition when Scotland goes to the polls in May.
Ms Davidson said her party would stand as a “principled, practical, Scottish alternative to the SNP”, by supporting Scotland’s place in the UK.
“I am not as naive as the Labour Party leader on this – the SNP must be held to its pledge to guarantee that there must be no second referendum for a generation,” she said.
Ms Davidson went on to attack Labour’s performance as an opposition.
She added: “In those nine years they have comprehensively failed in the only two duties an official opposition has – they have failed to hold the government to account, and they have failed to put forward a positive alternative vision for our country.”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie warned against more wrangling over the constitution.
“The last five years in the Scottish Parliament have been dominated by independence,” he said.