Nicola Sturgeon accused of shameful bid to ‘use Covid as recruiting tool’ for independence

Alex Salmond discusses using ‘super majority’ in Holyrood

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Nicola Sturgeon claimed the coronavirus pandemic had made people think “about the benefit of self-government”. The SNP leader insisted that if she could “change things” so that the virus had never happened, and that support for independence was lower, she would “trade any day”.

In an interview for Scottish publications, she said: “What I know is support for independence has grown over the past year, and is at a higher level now, and a higher, apparently sustainable level, than it’s been ever before.

“What the reasons for that are, I guess is open to debate. I think Brexit still has a big part to play.”

But Douglas Ross, Scottish Conservative leader, urged the Scottish First Minister to rethink her priorities.

He said: “We are facing a looming jobs crisis.

“Now is the time to start tackling the mammoth task of rebuilding our economy, not dragging Scotland back to the uncertainty of another referendum.”

The party is tomorrow launching a Rebuilding Roadmap detailing the party’s alternative plan for easing restrictions, protecting jobs and restarting Scotland’s economy.

On Ms Sturgeon’s comments, he said: “It’s jarring to see Nicola Sturgeon use the pandemic as a recruiting tool for independence.

“The fact is that the SNP Government came into this pandemic unprepared.

“There wasn’t enough PPE for frontline staff, testing and tracing wasn’t done well enough and, worst of all, many of our most vulnerable people were sent to Scotland’s care homes after testing positive for COVID-19.

“It’s not a record anyone should be proud of – and it’s shameful to campaign for another divisive independence referendum on its coattails.”

In an address this afternoon, Alex Salmond launched the Alba Party’s campaign for the Scottish elections in May, where he repeatedly pushed for a supermajority of MSPs to be elected in support of independence.

As part of his strategy to achieve independence, he said the Scottish Parliament should instruct the Scottish Government to start negotiations with the UK Government, creating a “standing independence convention” formed of elected representatives within a week of the Scottish elections.

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Mr Salmond added: “Independence is a priority for Alba, it’s not true that governments can’t do two things at the same time.

“After the horrors of the last year, the world won’t be, shouldn’t be, can’t be the same again.

“The world is going to change and hopefully will change for the better and learning lessons from the tragedies of last year.”

When asked by the Express if it was reckless to pursue independence at this time, Mr Salmond said: “We will be bringing forward ideas which meet the scale of the challenge which I haven’t seen from any other political party.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “These are the latest irresponsible remarks from Alex Salmond, and it’s time for the SNP to rule out working with its discredited former leader and his new party which is set up to game our electoral system.

“It is important to remember that people vote in elections on a range of issues, and we know that independence is way down the list of people’s priorities.

“It would also be unacceptable to bypass democracy by trying to leave the UK by the back door without a referendum, while the idea of governments starting complex and protracted constitutional negotiations in the midst of an ongoing national emergency is grotesque.

“All politicians should be focused on bringing people together, not finding new ways to divide Scotland, so that we can build a successful recovery as part of the UK.”

Kenny MacAskill says Alba will 'ensure Scottish independence'

It comes as a court was urged to rule on a landmark case that the Scottish Parliament had the authority to call a second independence referendum before polling day on May 6th.

Appeal judges heard a case brought forward by Martin Keatings on behalf of the Forward As One group, asking the court to declare the Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate for another vote. 

After a two-day hearing in January, Lady Carmichael dismissed the case – ruling it was “plainly raised prematurely” and that the question of another referendum was “also hypothetical, and may never come to pass”. 

At an appeal hearing at the Court of Session today, Aidan O’Neill QC, appearing for Mr Keatings, said it is clear that the Scottish Parliament can legislate for an independence referendum.

He said the Scottish Government has now published a draft Bill for a second vote on independence and Constitution Secretary Mike Russell has said the Bill will be introduced if the SNP gets a majority at next month’s Scottish Parliament election.

Mr O’Neill called on the court to make its decision before the ballot on May 6 so voters can make an informed choice.

But Andrew Webster QC, for the Advocate General of Scotland, said the case can be narrowed down to the idea the pursuer (Mr Keatings) needs the court’s advice to be able to decide how to vote in the election next month and that the court should not “effectively give voting advice”.

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