The writer is leader of the Scottish Labour party
When the first minister of Scotland entered the chamber of the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, announcing plans to hold an independence referendum on October 19 2023 was not her foremost aim.
Keen observers of Scottish politics will know that last week’s statement was really about one thing: positioning the Scottish National party for the next UK general election.
Boris Johnson, the prime minister, and Nicola Sturgeon are not polar opposites — in fact, they are in a symbiotic relationship, relying on each other to maintain the political status quo that keeps them in power.
The people of Scotland are facing a cost of living crisis unlike any we have seen in recent years, and our economy, still reeling from the damage of the pandemic, is lagging behind other parts of the UK.
The challenges before the Scottish government could not be greater — nor could the opportunity to tackle poverty, support businesses and kick-start our economy.
But instead of rising to face these challenges, the SNP is returning to the arguments of the past and sowing division to distract from the chaos and failures of their government.
Rather than dealing with the burning issues of the day, we have two governments feeding off one another and trying to tear communities apart for political gain — but you cannot play politics while people’s lives and livelihoods are in the balance.
Since the last elections to the Scottish parliament in May 2021, almost 5,000 people have died of Covid — 51 in the past week. There are over 700,000 Scots on an NHS waiting list, with over 10,000 children and young people in line for a mental health appointment. And, as of last week, there were almost 20,000 fewer businesses in Scotland than when the pandemic began.
Last month, the Bank of England warned that inflation could reach 11 per cent — meaning higher bills and a deepening cost of living crisis.
But rather than focusing on the recovery and rebuilding our economy and public services, Sturgeon is more concerned with making the SNP relevant in a general election.
By pledging to make the next general election a “de facto” referendum on Scottish independence, Sturgeon is sending a clear message to the people of Scotland: if you care about the NHS, your child’s education or supporting businesses — don’t vote SNP.
Scottish politicians should aspire to be more than just slightly better than Johnson and the Tories. But for that to happen, we need to have a political leadership focused on the people’s priorities and on our national recovery from the pandemic.
Incidentally, this is what the SNP promised to do in the Scottish election last year. At that point, we were still living under Covid restrictions. Over 10,000 of our fellow citizens had lost their lives.
Sturgeon said during her campaign that people who didn’t support a referendum or independence through the recovery should vote for her, safe in the knowledge that a referendum would not be her priority.
Fast forward to now and our post-pandemic recovery hasn’t even started. But the Sturgeon who said she wanted to pull us through is gone and the Sturgeon who wants to divide our country is back — pursuing a referendum that over half of Scots do not want at this moment.
The first minister is using her electoral victory last year to pursue a politics of division. But the people of Scotland deserve so much better.