SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon says the “people of Scotland should decide Scotland’s future” through an independence referendum in the next term of the Scottish Parliament.
She said there would be “no democratic, electoral, or moral justification whatsoever for Boris Johnson or anyone else to block the right of people in Scotland to decide their own future” if there is a “simple, democratic majority in the Scottish Parliament for an independence referendum”.
Speaking at the launch of the SNP’s election manifesto on Thursday, Sturgeon said: “I do not propose holding an independence referendum while we are still grappling with the Covid crisis.
“That would be a dereliction of my duty as First Minister to dedicate all of my energies to leading us through the crisis.
“But it would also be a dereliction of my duty as First Minister – my duty to this and future generations – to let Westminster take Scotland so far in the wrong direction that we no longer have the option to change course.
“So it is my judgment that the people of Scotland should decide Scotland’s future through an independence referendum in the next term of parliament.”
“It should take place only when the crisis has passed, but in time then to equip our parliament with the full powers it needs to drive our long-term recovery.
“But whether or not Scotland becomes independent won’t be decided by me or by the SNP or even by the Scottish Parliament.
“It will happen only when a majority of people who live here in Scotland are persuaded to vote for it.”
As well as addressing Scotland’s constitutional future, Sturgeon also made a raft of domestic policy pledges that she said her party would implement if they are re-elected at next month’s election.
Companies will be provided funding to pilot a four-day working week in a bid to help people achieve a better work-life balance following the coronavirus pandemic.
She also outlined plans to freeze rates of income tax for the next five years, move towards a minimum income guarantee, and investment of more than £33bn in infrastructure in the next five years.
Sturgeon said: “Before the pandemic struck, many people were already worried about work-life balance.
“We want to do more to support people to achieve a better balance and help businesses employ as many people as possible.
“As part of that, we will establish a £10m fund to support willing companies to explore and pilot the benefits of a four-day working week.
“And to provide stability to the economy and to household budgets during this period of recovery, I can confirm our intention is to freeze the rates of income tax throughout the next parliament.”
The First Minister also said her government would use the powers available to ensure a minimum income standard.
She added: “This will lay the foundation for the introduction of a citizens’ basic income should Scotland choose to become independent and gain the tax and social security powers that are necessary to make that a reality.
“And in the meantime, it will help tackle poverty and inequality and give people dignity and opportunity.”
On health, the SNP leader said she would increase health spending by £2.5bn, an increase of at least 20%, and social care funding by more than £800m over the next parliamentary term.
She said: “This will deliver an additional £2.5bn for frontline health services – almost double what an inflation-only increase would amount to.
“Of course we cannot remobilise the NHS without the extraordinary commitment of all those who work in it.
“We will also increase public investment in social care by 25% over the course of the parliament, delivering over £800m of additional support.
“And because we believe that social care, just like health care, should be provided on a truly universal basis, free at the point of use, we will remove charges for non-residential care.
“Fresh thinking is required as we recover our health and care services and secure them for the future.”
She added that NHS staff will receive the “biggest single NHS pay increase in the history of devolution”.
The SNP also vowed to set up fast-track cancer diagnostic centres in every health board area and abolish NHS dentistry charges if re-elected.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “We are still waiting on the SNP delivering promises they made in 2007. They have a one-track mind for independence that prevents them getting anything else done.”
He said that on issues such as “class sizes, council tax, superfast broadband, delayed discharge” it had been “promise after promise broken” by the SNP, adding: “It will be even worse if the SNP get a majority.”
Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson hit out at the “giveaways that the SNP have been springing out of hats” during the election campaign.
She told Radio Forth: “People aren’t daft, they wonder ‘you’ve been in government for 14 years, why are you telling us now you’ve not given enough to the NHS’.
“How cynical is this to wheel it out three weeks before an election, but not to have done the hard yards when you have been in government for 14 years.”