An independence referendum should be the last thing Sturgeon wants to think about

The author is the leader of the Scottish Labour Party

As Scotland’s first minister entered the Scottish Parliament chamber on Tuesday, she announced plans for an independence referendum on October 19, 2023, was not her primary goal.

Astute observers of Scottish politics will know that last week’s announcement was actually about one thing: positioning the SNP for the next UK general election.

Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon are not antagonistic – in fact, they are in a symbiotic relationship, dependent on each other to maintain the political status quo that keeps them in power.

The people of Scotland are facing a cost of living crisis unlike anything we’ve seen in recent years, while our economy remains devastated by the pandemic and falls behind the rest of the UK.

The challenge facing the Scottish government couldn’t be greater – the opportunity to tackle poverty, support business and jumpstart the economy couldn’t be greater.

But instead of standing up to these challenges, the SNP went back to the arguments of the past and sowed the seeds of divisiveness to distract them from the chaos and failures of their government.

Instead of dealing with today’s pressing issues, we have two governments feeding each other and trying to divide communities for political gain – but you can’t play politics when people’s lives and livelihoods are in balance.

Nearly 5,000 people have died from Covid-19 since the last Scottish Parliament election in May 2021 – 51 in the past week. There are more than 700,000 Scots on the NHS waiting list and more than 10,000 children and young people queuing for mental health appointments. And, as of last week, there were almost 20,000 fewer businesses in Scotland than at the start of the pandemic.

Last month, the Bank of England warned that inflation could hit 11% – meaning higher bills and a deepening cost of living crisis.

But instead of focusing on restoring and rebuilding our economy and public services, Sturgeon is more concerned with making SNPs relevant in the general election.

By promising to make the next general election a “de facto” referendum on Scottish independence, Sturgeon is sending a clear message to the people of Scotland: if you care about the NHS, your children’s education or support business – don’t vote for the SNP.

Scottish politicians should aspire to be slightly better than Johnson and the Conservatives. But to do that, we need a political leadership focused on the priorities of the people and our nation’s recovery from the pandemic.

By the way, this is what the SNP promised to do in last year’s Scottish election. Back then, we were still living under Covid restrictions. More than 10,000 fellow citizens lost their lives.

Sturgeon said during the campaign that people who do not support a referendum or independence through recovery should vote for her because she knows the referendum is not her priority.

Fast forward to now, and our post-pandemic recovery has not even begun. But the sturgeon who said she wanted to pull us over is gone and the sturgeon who wanted to divide our country is back – in a referendum that more than half of Scots currently don’t want.

The first minister is using her election victory last year to push divisive politics. But the people of Scotland deserve better.

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