SCDI Forum

Sturgeon: independence debate ‘not a distraction’

Nicola Sturgeon addressing the SCDI Forum

Nicola Sturgeon says the independence debate is “not a distraction” from current challenges facing the country and that a series of papers on the issue will focus on the “tough issues as well as the opportunities”.

The first paper, to be announced at Bute House, will be a “scene setter” and will look at other small countries and their economic performances. She will be joined by Patrick Harvie, the co-leader of the Scottish Green Party as part of a power-sharing agreement with the SNP.

Future publications are expected to examine the currency, the fiscal position of Scotland, creating a more sustainable economy, defence and security, pensions, social security, EU membership and trade.

The First Minister told a business forum in Edinburgh that any choice on independence “must be well-informed and by a process that is legal and beyond reproach”.

She said: “These are challenges that we will navigate our way through.” She added that in addition to the challenges Scotland faces in common with other countries “it is not an unfair question to ask: is this a challenge we need on top of that?

“My answer to that is that the case for independence is not abstract, it is not separate from, nor is it a distraction from the big challenges we face. It is actually, fundamentally, about how we best equip ourselves as a country to address those challenges and to fulfil our potential.”

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She told delegates attending the SCDI annual forum that many of the big challenges, including the cost of living crisis, the low growth of the UK and the “many quite damaging implications of Brexit… many of them are, if not caused by, then at the very least exacerbated by the fact that we are not an independent country.

“This is a debate about how we best position and equip ourselves for the future. It must be an informed decision and my determination, my duty is to ensure that the information is there for people to scrutinise and, in the fullness of time, to reach a decision on.”

Commenting ahead of the publication of the first paper, Labour’s constitution spokesperson Sarah Boyack said: “This is an appalling waste of time, energy and money when our public services are being cut to the bone. The SNP and the Greens are putting our future at risk with plans that would make Brexit look like a walk in the park.”

Scottish Conservatives Constitution spokesman Donald Cameron said: “The distraction and disruption of another bitter referendum debate is the last thing Scotland needs right now.”

On the economy and Brexit, the First Minister told the SCDI forum that in addition to the impact of Covid and the challenges of the climate crisis, inflation was higher than had been seen for a generation and “indeed higher in the UK than in any other G7 country”.

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She told delegates: “It is, of course, contributing to the cost of doing business and that is being exacerbated by Brexit and particularly the form of Brexit that has been pursued and there is a real risk that will be exacerbated even further now by the probably illegal action that the UK government is outlining today over the Northern Ireland protocol.”

Stressing there were positives in the economy, she quoted an EY survey that pointed to Scotland being the most attractive location for inward investment outside London.

However, she did not mention the latest EY survey, published today, which noted that in financial services Scotland slid from second to fourth most popular location.

Ms Sturgeon stressed the importance of purpose and productivity and confirmed the expansion of Scotland’s Productivity Clubs – a network with more than 1,800 members across Scotland offering peer support to improve and grow enterprises in areas such as digital transition and fair work.

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