Scotland politics

Election 2017: SNP manifesto calls for referendum 'at end of Brexit process'

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Media captionNicola Sturgeon says Scotland must have a choice on its future when the terms of Brexit are known

Opposition to an independence referendum will be "democratically unsustainable" if the SNP wins a majority of Scottish seats, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The SNP leader was speaking in Perth as her party's general election manifesto was published.

The document calls for a vote on independence to be held "at the end of the Brexit process".

The SNP won 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland in the 2015 general election.

And the party is widely expected to again finish as comfortably the biggest in the country this time around, despite opinion polls suggesting it is likely to lose some seats.

The party's manifesto also sets out "anti-austerity" plans to invest £118bn in UK public services over the next five years.

The plan includes aiming to balance the current budget by the end of the parliament in 2021/22, stabilising net borrowing at the level it was at before the financial crash and see debt begin to fall as a share of GDP from 2019/20.

The SNP also pledges to increase the minimum wage to £10 an hour, calls for Scotland to have control over immigration and to remain in the EU single market after Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly said that "now is not the time" for a second referendum.

And the Conservative manifesto promises there will be no vote on independence until the Brexit process has "played out" and unless there is "public consent" for one to be held - although it does not specify what that means.

Ms Sturgeon called earlier this year for a referendum to be held in the autumn of next year or the spring of 2019.

Speaking at the manifesto launch, Ms Sturgeon she said a vote should be held "not now, but when the final terms of the deal are known".

'Reinforce that mandate'

The SNP leader added: "There is too much at stake for Brexit simply to be imposed on Scotland, no matter how damaging it turns out to be. Our future must be decided by us, not for us.

"Last year's Holyrood election delivered the democratic mandate for an independence referendum in the event of Brexit, and the recent vote of the Scottish Parliament underlined that mandate.

"If the SNP wins a majority of Scottish seats in this election, that will further reinforce that mandate. And in these circumstances, any continued Tory attempts to block Scotland having a choice - when the time is right and the options are clear - would be democratically unsustainable."

The manifesto also includes:

  • A plan for additional NHS spending across the UK that would, by 2021/22, increase the NHS Scotland budget by up to an extra £1bn
  • Increase the minimum wage to over £10 per hour by the end of the parliament
  • Lift the freeze on benefits and abolish the two-child cap and the so-called Rape Clause
  • Protect the triple lock on pensions, protect the winter fuel allowance and support fair pensions for women
  • No increase in taxation on the low paid, in National Insurance or in VAT.
  • Support a UK-wide increase in the higher rate of taxation from 45p to 50p.

Ms Sturgeon, who is Scotland's first minister, also indicated that she would lift the 1% cap on public sector pay rises. She was confronted about low pay by a nurse in a televised BBC Scotland debate last week.

She said the manifesto had "fairness and opportunity at its heart" and was a manifesto for a "country that is welcoming and outward-looking".

She added: "Now, more than ever, it is vital to have strong SNP voices standing up for Scotland.

"In this election, let us make sure we strengthen Scotland's hand, not Theresa May's. Otherwise, much of what we cherish and value will be under threat."


Analysis

By Brian Taylor, BBC Scotland political editor

For the SNP, there is a potential conundrum at the core of this election. It is intrinsic and structural.

The snag is that, however many seats they win in Scotland, the SNP cannot arithmetically form the UK government.

In response to which, Ms Sturgeon offers a constructed syllogism.

Labour look like losing, despite a recent apparent improvement in polling.

Hence, Theresa May will be returned as PM.

Hence, Scotland requires a tranche of SNP MPs defending Scottish interests against the incumbent UK Tories.

Read more from Brian


Ms Sturgeon has sought to portray the election as a chance to protect Scotland from Conservative policies, arguing that Scottish votes for the SNP "can stop Theresa May having a free hand at Westminster to do whatever she wants".

And she used the vast majority of her speech at the manifesto launch to condemn the Conservatives for their "assault on social security", saying this was an attack on the poor, disabled and vulnerable in society.

"These cuts strike at the very heart of how we see ourselves as a nation and our shared ambition for the future," she said

"They are unfair and they are designed to divide."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jeremy Corbyn said on Monday that he would open discussions over a referendum - but later clarified he remained firmly opposed to one

She has previously said she would be open to seeking a "progressive alliance" at Westminster to keep the Conservatives out of government in the event of a hung parliament.

But she has predicted that the Conservatives will win another majority in the election - and has said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is not a credible candidate to be prime minister.

Mr Corbyn has insisted he would not do a deal with the SNP to gain power at Westminster, pledging: "There will be no deals. There will be no alliance. We're fighting this election to win."

He has also firmly opposed a second referendum in recent weeks, claiming it is "unnecessary and unwanted", despite saying earlier this year he would be "fine" with one being held if the Scottish Parliament called for it.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Most of Ms Sturgeon's speech focused on attacking Theresa May and the Conservatives rather than promoting independence

However, in a radio interview on Monday, Mr Corbyn said he would "open discussions" with the Scottish government if he becomes prime minister - but said he would suggest they "think very carefully about it".

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has previously given a "cast-iron guarantee" that her party would oppose a referendum.

Responding to the SNP manifesto launch, Ms Dugdale said Ms Sturgeon had "once again confirmed that her number one priority in this election is her plan for another unwanted and divisive independence referendum".

'Usual trick'

She added: "While Nicola Sturgeon campaigns for independence, standards in our schools have fallen and NHS services face closure."

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: "Nicola Sturgeon tried her usual trick today of trying to ignore independence in her speech, but making sure she's pushing for it in her manifesto. Nobody is fooled any more.

"Strip away the bluster and it's written down in black and white - she wants to drag Scotland back to another referendum by as early as next autumn."

And Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "The SNP must think we are stupid. They barely mentioned independence today but we know independence will be their top priority once the election is over.

"We know that because after every previous election that's exactly what they've done. At every election they pretend they are fighting for the greater good but all they ever fight for is independence.


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