After Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement on Monday that she would be requesting the specific legislation required for a new Scottish independence referendum from Westminster, Thursday’s First Minister’s Questions was always going to focus on the issue of independence.
Questions were opened by the Scottish Conservatives’ Ruth Davidson who asked the First Minister why she is seeking to pursue an “unwanted and divisive” referendum instead of tackling the “crisis in education”.
Ms Sturgeon replied that she wants to give people in Scotland a choice over their own future. She added that it is part of her job to “protect Scotland’s interests” and save Scotland from a hard Tory Brexit.
Ms Davidson responded by accusing Ms. Sturgeon of “ignoring the day job” and failing to help pupils in Scotland, address NHS waiting lists, and cut crime. She also cited reports that Scotland will be “£11bn in the red” if it votes for independence.
Ms. Sturgeon responded that Scotland has a deficit which was created on Westminster’s watch and that this will only get worse once the cuts from Westminster reach 10% by the end of the decade. She maintained that Scotland deserves the power to put an end to austerity and reduce the deficit on their own terms – especially when Brexit will mean that every household could face a bill of £5,000.
Labour’s Kezia Dugdale also questioned the Government on the independence referendum by referring to a report which stated that the chair of the SNP’s growth commission, Andrew Wilson, told the First Minister that it could take 10 years to recover from independence. She asked if independence is worth a “lost decade”.
Ms. Sturgeon told Ms. Dugdale that the reports were wrong and asked her if she is willing to consign Scotland to a decade of Tory austerity. She also pointed out that the deficit needs to be tackled whether independent or not.
Ms Dugdale then asked if Ms Sturgeon will lead a government or a campaign. The First Minister replied that she will focus on raising standards in schools and improving the NHS, but that this will be all the more difficult if Scotland is subjected to Tory cuts.
Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Willie Rennie, then asked if it is possible that an independent Scotland could be outside both the UK single market and the EU single market.
Ms Sturgeon replied that she wants Scotland to be in the EU and the single market, and that giving people in Scotland a choice on the issue is important.
Mr Rennie then argued that the answer to his question is ‘yes’ and that Ms Sturgeon’s route could leave Scotland out of both markets. He said that
“it is absurd to use the EU for an excuse for another independence referendum.”
Ms Sturgeon pointed out that Mr Rennie had previously said voting no in the last referendum would secure EU membership, which was clearly not the case. She accused him of being “breath-taking in his hypocrisy”.
Questions from other Members included queries on travel for NHS patients on the Shetland Isles, the closure of the Forth Road Bride due to travel advice not being followed, and education.