Businesses demand respect for 2014 poll
Sturgeon relaunches indy drive with ‘listening exercise’
She also announced a “Growth Commission” which will assess prospects for the economy post-Brexit and in an independent Scotland. It will almost certainly look at how Scotland could achieve sustainable growth in a low oil revenue environment.
In a speech in Stirling, the SNP leader said that “profoundly changed circumstances” across the UK in the wake of Brexit, the implosion of the Labour party and the prospect of decades of Tory rule at Westminster mean it is the right time for a new debate on Scotland’s future.
Ms Sturgeon had pledged to restart the independence campaign during the summer but she is also aware that a poll now would not guarantee the outcome the SNP seeks.
The initiative launched today therefore attempts to persuade waverers and establish why No voters continue to prefer the union.
However, it is already reopening divisions with business leaders who are largely opposed to separation from the rest of the UK.
A number of senior figures, including Jack Perry (right), a former chief executive of Scottish Enterprise and chairman of CBI Scotland, have called for the SNP to honour the result of the 2014 referendum.
“Starting a new independence campaign now will only add fresh uncertainty to Scotland’s future at a time when small and large businesses are looking for stability from all layers of government,” states the group in a letter published in a newspaper.
“The SNP promised it would respect the result of the independence referendum. It signed the Edinburgh Agreement pledging to do just that. It is time for it to honour that agreement. A failure to do so, by re-starting an unwanted referendum campaign, would be tantamount to a major breach of trust by the Scottish Government to the two-million Scots voters who voted No in the 2014 independence referendum.”
The letter is also signed by former CBI Scotland director Sir Iain McMillan and Rhona Irving, a former partner at accountancy giant PwC. All three sat on a Conservative party think tank into Scottish income tax.
Unionists argue that Ms Sturgeon is arguing for a split with the UK at the same time as calling for unity in Europe and that this is creating further uncertainty and instability.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson (right), drawing on a YouGov poll showing a majority of Scots do not want a second referendum, said: “Nicola Sturgeon has shown today that she is prepared to ignore the priorities of the people of Scotland, in pursuit of her own narrow nationalist agenda.
“If she was really listening, she would know that most of us don’t want to go back to another divisive referendum debate – we want Scotland to move on.
“And she would know that reheating the referendum debate will only add a further cloud of uncertainty over Scotland’s future, just at the moment when we need a government dedicated to security and stability.
That is a price worth paying for a Nationalist government which is using the EU referendum result to try and create yet more division.
“As leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party, I will oppose any attempt by the SNP to hold another referendum. It is utterly unjustified and unnecessary.
“More than that, my party will demand that this increasingly arrogant Nationalist government gets back to the day job it was elected to do – to improve our schools, our hospitals and to create jobs.”
The first phase in the SNP’s new independence initiative will reach out to two million people in Scotland before St Andrew’s Day — seeking to gain a nationwide understanding of people’s views on Europe, Brexit and independence to grow consensus across Scotland in the wake of recent political events.
Equipped with a new national survey, each of the SNP’s 120,000 members will be challenged to engage with five people each month for the next three months, alongside doorstep activism across the country and all SNP parliamentarians hosting town hall events throughout Scotland.
A Party Growth Commission will be established to examine the projections for Scotland’s economy in the post-Brexit climate and in the context of independence. This strategy will include consideration of monetary arrangements to “best underpin a strategy for sustainable growth” and will seek views from across the political spectrum.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The UK that Scotland vote to stay part of in 2014 has changed — and so too have the arguments. That’s why I believe it is right that our party does now lead a new debate on independence.
“We must not assume that people’s views — yes or no — are the same today as they were in 2014. Instead we must engage the arguments with a fresh eye and an open mind. And before we start talking we must listen.
“So today, we are launching the biggest listening exercise in our party’s history. We want to understand in detail how people feel now about Europe, Brexit and independence. We want to know the concerns that people have and the questions they want answered. We want to build, if we can, a consensus on the way ahead.
“I encourage as many people as possible to take part and let us know their views – whether they are for independence, against independence or undecided.
“The wealth of information and insight that we gather will then inform the next stage of our campaign.
Announcing her party’s new Growth Commission the First Minister said: “The Commission will inform our thinking on how growth can be sustained in the here and now and during the period of uncertainty caused by Brexit.
“But it will also examine the projections for Scotland’s finances in the context of independence and consider a policy programme – with social justice at its heart – to grow the economy and reduce Scotland’s deficit to a sustainable level. It will also consider the monetary arrangements that would best support and underpin a strategy for sustainable growth.
“And while its work is intended to inform SNP policy, it will also seek views from across the political spectrum.”
All photos: by Terry Murden