The Scottish Government will publish draft legislation for a new independence referendum – including the question and date of the vote – before the end of this parliament, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
The first minister set out her administration’s legislative agenda for the rest of the parliamentary session on Tuesday, including a £60 million scheme guaranteeing a job, training or education place for every young person aged 16 to 24 in Scotland.
The first tranche of a £2 billion low-carbon fund will also be unveiled in the months ahead, including plans to secure £1.6 billion of investment in heat and energy efficiency in Scotland’s homes and buildings.
This programme for government sets out plans for a stronger, more resilient and sustainable economy.”
Ms Sturgeon announced a new proximity tracing app will be launched before the end of September as part of measures to tackle the coronavirus crisis.
The app will add an additional means of notifying people if they may have been exposed to the virus, and will warn they should self-isolate to prevent onward transmission.
The SNP leader had promised a “radical” approach to policies that capitalises on an opportunity “not simply to go back to how things were, but to address many of the deep-seated challenges our country faces”.
The Scottish Government’s programme for government confirms ministers will publish a draft referendum bill “setting out the terms of a future referendum clearly and unambiguously to the people of Scotland”.
It states: “Before the end of his parliament, we will publish a draft bill for an independence referendum – setting out the terms of a future referendum clearly and unambiguously to the people of Scotland.
“This will include the question to be asked, subject to appropriate testing by the Electoral Commission, and the timescale in which we consider the referendum should be held, taking account of the current state of the Covid-19 pandemic at the time of publication of the draft bill.”
The Scottish Government confirmed in March that work to prepare for a new referendum had been “paused” to focus efforts on tackling the outbreak.
We must treat the Covid-19 challenge not as a brake on our ambitions but as an accelerant.”
However, a sustained lead in the polls for independence over recent months had made a fresh push for a new vote increasingly likely.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross immediately hit out at the announcement of the draft legislation, claiming Ms Sturgeon “just doesn’t get it”.
“We need to take Scotland forward and recover from this crisis together, not go back to the divisions of the past,” he said.
“This was the moment where the first minister could have put selfish, narrow interests to one side and united the country.
“Instead, we’re told the solution is another Referendum Bill, only this time in the middle of a pandemic.”
Announcing the new legislative agenda at the Scottish Parliament, the first minister insisted her government would prioritise work to suppress the virus – building on its commitment to Covid-19 testing, contact tracing, and surveillance.
“The Covid-19 pandemic continues to have a profound impact on our health and wellbeing, on business and the economy – indeed, on our whole way of life. That is true here in Scotland, and across the globe,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“This programme is clear that suppressing Covid is our most immediate priority – and it will remain so for some time. However, it also makes clear that we will not simply hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.
“This programme for government sets out plans for a stronger, more resilient and sustainable economy – with a laser focus on creating new, good, green jobs.
“It guarantees opportunities for young people – and refuses to accept that their generation will carry the economic scars of Covid into adulthood.
“It sets out plans to strengthen and reform our public services, including our NHS. And it takes the first step on the road to a National Care Service.
“It promotes equality and wellbeing, with decisive action to combat child poverty. At its heart is the new, game-changing Scottish Child Payment.
“We must treat the Covid-19 challenge not as a brake on our ambitions but as an accelerant – helping us shape a stronger, greener, fairer future.”
A new national transition training fund will support up to 10,000 people at risk of redundancy or unemployment, while a £100 million green jobs fund and inward investment plan will create 100,000 “high-value jobs” over the next decade.
An independent review of the care system will be established to examine how adult social care can be most effectively reformed to deliver a national approach to support services. This will include consideration of establishing a National Care Service.
Applications for the Scottish Child Payment will open in November 2020, with the first payments to be made in February 2021.
And a new £10 million tenant hardship loan fund will seek to protect people from homelessness by providing interest-free loans for those struggling to pay their rent, alongside a ban on evictions until March 2021.
According to the programme for government, other measures include:
- Accelerating the roll-out of community treatment and assessment centres so more people can receive medical care in their community rather than going to hospital.
- Expanding digital access to health care to ensure more people can get the help they need.
- £1.6 billion low-carbon funding to secure a just transition to a net zero economy, including a £100 million green jobs fund, investment in heat and energy efficiency and industrial decarbonisation.
- A 20-year vision for energy efficient, zero-carbon housing, with access to outdoor space, transport links, digital connectivity and community services.
- £500 million for infrastructure to support active travel.
- Bringing 50,000 people into the digital world through the Connecting Scotland programme and creating a “world-class” digital eco-system in Scotland.
- Introducing legislation on domestic abuse protection orders and progressing legislation to improve forensic medical examinations for sexual assault victims.
Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson said many of the measures were necessary but “lack urgency and remain insufficient to the scale of the task in hand”.
“Nicola Sturgeon’s statement ran to over 6,000 words but she missed out two: small business,” she said.
“The Scottish National Investment Bank is all well and good but a bloated national bank backing long-term projects won’t help small local shops keep the lights on over the next six months.
“The government must consider a hardship fund for firms hit by localised lockdowns, push back business rates revaluation, and commit to not penalising businesses for Covid-proofing their properties.
“Small businesses will be absolutely key to creating new jobs and protecting Scotland’s recovery. The first minister needs to back them, not abandon them.”
Andrew McRae, from the Federation of Small Businesses, said it would be easy for many of his members to get behind the measures announced but warned some businesses will struggle to survive long enough to feel the effects.
“Our big concern is that few of these initiatives will kick in overnight and at least some businesses are reaching the end of the road,” he said. “We may still need new short and medium-term measures to help important local firms through this period of crisis.”
Unicef congratulated the Scottish Government on confirming the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child will be incorporated into Scots law.
The programme for government states the incorporation will “deliver a revolution in children’s rights” and that this will be achieved by the end of this parliament.
Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore said: “Now more than ever, as children’s lives are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s vital that their rights are upheld.
“Unicef is ready to support the adoption and implementation of this historic bill. I discussed this issue with the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last year and I am delighted to now see this pivotal announcement for the children of Scotland.”
Bills to be progressed during this parliamentary session (2020-21) include:
- Budget Bill
- Domestic Abuse Bill
- Incorporation of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) Bill
- St Andrews University (Degrees in Medicine and Dentistry) Bill
- Defamation and Malicious Publication Bill
- Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) Bill
- Hate Crime and Public Order Bill
- Heat Networks Bill
- Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) Bill
- Social Security Administration and Tribunal Membership Bill
- UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) Bill