Nicola Sturgeon prepares to outline plans for the year ahead today

Nicola Sturgeon faces pressure to put off announcing another Scottish Independence vote to allow country to recover from Covid as she prepares to outline plans for the year ahead today

  • The First Minister will make statement in Holyrood on Tuesday on her new plans 
  • The announcement is expected to have particular focus on children and families
  • Sturgeon is expected to announce ‘wraparound childcare’ for poorest families
  • But she would not be drawn on if the draft independence Bill will be introduced

Nicola Sturgeon has said she will lay out a ‘substantive legislative platform’ in the programme for government, but did not say if legislation for another independence vote will be announced.

The First Minister will make a statement in Holyrood on Tuesday, where she will lay out her government’s plans for the coming year.

With a particular focus on children and families, Ms Sturgeon will announce the implementation of ‘wraparound childcare’ for the poorest families – aimed at offering care before and after school for free to help parents get back into the workforce.

But the First Minister would not be drawn on how many Bills are likely to be announced, nor would she say if the draft independence Bill which was announced earlier this year would be introduced.

The programme for government is the first of the new administration, which entered into a co-operation agreement with the Scottish Greens last month, formalising a majority in support of independence at Holyrood.

The First Minister (pictured yesterday) will make a statement in Holyrood on Tuesday, where she will lay out her government’s plans for the coming year

Speaking ahead of the announcement as part of a visit to an after-school programme run by Indigo Childcare in Glasgow, the First Minister said: ‘I’ll set out our proposals to deliver on our manifesto commitment, remember, a manifesto commitment that 72 out of 129 members of the Scottish Parliament were elected on, to give people in Scotland a choice over our future, to choose independence.

‘It’s not just that there’s a mandate for that, but in a democracy that mandate should be respected.

‘This is a decision that it should be for people not politicians to take, at this juncture in history as we recover from the pandemic, asking ourselves like countries elsewhere ‘what kind of society do we want to build and who do we want to shape the decisions that decide that?”

When asked what can be expected to come from the programme for government, the First Minister said it would be for Holyrood to hear first.

‘I’ll set out the detail of the programme for government, obviously, to parliament first and therefore I will need to tell parliament that detail but there will be a substantive legislative programme as there is every year, with key pieces of legislation to support recovery from Covid but also to take forward the reforms across public services and the economy that are necessary,’ she said.

‘But around that legislative programme there will be a number of significant, substantial policy interventions that both deliver on the manifesto that we were so resoundingly re-elected on just a few months ago, but also start to implement the co-operation agreement that we struck with the Scottish Green Party in the last few weeks.’

The programme for government is the first of the new administration, which entered into a co-operation agreement with the Scottish Greens (pictured, Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie) last month, formalising a majority in support of independence at Holyrood

In the election, the SNP pledged to double the amount paid to the poorest families from the Scottish Child Payment, but it appears unlikely that will come today.

She added: ‘We’ve committed to doubling the child payment within the lifetime of this parliament.

‘Clearly we’ve got to consider the timing of that in the context of our spending review and our budget considerations – we want to do it as quickly as possible.’

She added: ‘Yes, we want to go further, but we have to do that in a way that’s deliverable and affordable.’

Meanwhile a nine-year-old school pupil yesterday told Scotland’s First Minister she hopes lockdown measures in Scotland do not return.

Ms Sturgeon visited an after-school programme in the Castlemilk area of Glasgow, run by Indigo Childcare Group, ahead of the expected announcement of increased childcare for the poorest families to help them back into work, training or study.

Covid cases have been rising in recent weeks, with the peak higher than at any point during the pandemic and showing little signs of slowing.

Figures went above 7,000 new cases in a single day for the first time on Monday, according to government figures.

But, as the First Minister settled down to paint with some of the youngsters, nine-year-old Carley-Jo embarked on her not-so-subtle lobbying attempt.

‘I hope you don’t put us back into lockdown,’ she said. ‘I hope not as well,’ the First Minister replied, with a laugh.

When asked if she did not enjoy lockdown, Carley-Jo replied: ‘No.’ She added: ‘I heard you were self-isolating?’

Ms Sturgeon was considered a close contact of someone who tested positive for Covid-19 last week, but was allowed to stop self-isolating after testing negative for the virus.

‘I did for a wee while,’ she explained. ‘But then I tested negative so I was OK.’

Meanwhile a nine-year-old school pupil yesterday told Scotland’s First Minister (pictured at the school yesterday) she hopes lockdown measures in Scotland do not return

Carley-Jo painted a message urging people to ‘stay safe’, written under an image of a heart which she showed the First Minister, and they held aloft for the cameras.

Some 7,065 cases were reported on Monday, just the second time the 7,000 mark has been surpassed since the start of the pandemic.

The First Minister again refused to rule out the re-imposition of restrictions, but urged Scots to continue to follow current guidance.

‘Nobody wants to re-impose restrictions, which is why we have put such emphasis in recent days on compliance with the current mitigations in place,’ she said.

‘But the Scottish Government, as you would expect any responsible government to do, keeps the situation under very close review.

‘Cabinet will look at the current situation and consider whether there is more that needs to be done.’

She added: ‘We are seeing a continued rise in cases and cases are at far too high a level.

‘We’ve not seen the rapid doubling of cases that we thought we might be facing about a week ago, I would have feared cases might be at an even higher level by now, but that doesn’t give us any room for complacency, particularly when the health service is under so much pressure from Covid.’

Scottish Conservative Leader DOUGLAS ROSS: Sturgeon must act for all of us, not just SNP and its allies

Scotland is standing on a precipice. Our health service is critically strained, our economy is in tatters and we are in the grip of ever-increasing Covid case numbers.

That’s not just the failings of our Government and the ravages of the pandemic –that is the struggle of people waiting to be treated in our hospitals, fearing for their jobs or businesses, and worrying about catching the virus or yet more lockdowns.

My plea to Nicola Sturgeon, as she prepares to deliver her Programme for Government this week, is to think of them first and not her obsession with independence.

Businesses are today appealing that she puts the economy first. The First Minister should listen.

This is not just about dry economics and men in suits – this is about ordinary Scots, and businesses large and small, worrying about how they will pay the bills, feed their families and keep the lights on.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross appears on a screen in the debating chamber as he takes part remotely in First Minister’s Questions last week

Last year, her Programme for Government did nothing to reverse more than a decade of failure under the SNP. This year, the stakes are even higher. The First Minister cannot let people down again.

Her Government must remobilise our health service so more patients can be seen and treated; work with businesses to help them rebuild and keep people in work; providing affordable houses for families in desperate need; ignore her Green sidekicks and make crucial improvements to our roads; and put victims first, not criminals.

All these areas have suffered with the SNP at the helm, as Nationalists obsess about independence, instead of using the raft of parliamentary powers we already have to improve people’s lives.

Here’s an example of how the SNP fails the people they should be standing up for.

Last week, the Scottish Conservatives released figures that 262,153 hours of community payback orders had been written off following a decision by the SNP Government in January. How must those victims feel? How have we ended up with a justice system that does not think about their needs first?

In our manifesto, the Victims Bill proved we would be tough on crime, support the police and put victims first.

And then there’s the NHS – battered by the pandemic but also by the SNP’s mismanagement.

The SNP Government’s plan to reboot the health service is like a sticking plaster on a broken leg.

It is underwhelming, unimpressive and fails to give patients’ confidence that it will finally cut the unacceptable waiting time for treatment.

While still having to manage increasing Covid case numbers, our nurses and doctors are facing a mammoth backlog. There are 600,000 people on NHS waiting lists, A&E waits are at a six-year high, drug deaths at a seven-year high and alcohol deaths at an eight-year high.

While long Covid clinics have been set up in England, the issue was absent from the SNP Government’s NHS recovery pamphlet.

T his is a growing crisis and the SNP must provide the NHS with greater clarity on how it will be managed in the long term, and provide reassurance that the funding required will be allocated to provide the necessary care for those who need it.

Scotland is the drugs death capital of Europe. It’s a shameful accolade to hold, and comes from years of Miss Sturgeon and her ministers taking their ‘eye off the ball’, as she admitted. Last year, 1,339 people died due to drug abuse and thousands more have been affected by it.

When these tragic figures were released we urged the SNP Government to work with us on our Right to Recovery Bill, which would have given people quicker and fairer access to treatment for drug addiction.

The Programme for Government must guarantee greater support for those on the front line, trying to save lives. The SNP’s years of failure must end because the annual death toll is horrific.

And the First Minister must also address the shortage of affordable housing.

While the Green Party is fixated on the introduction of rent controls, there is still the issue of the 50,000 new homes promised by the SNP in 2016 that haven’t been delivered. The housing backlog created by the Government is leaving people facing homelessness or living far too long in temporary accommodation.

The First Minister must not bow to pressure from her Green coalition partners who are intent on imposing their own extremist agenda on the Scottish people.

Patrick Harvie has already boasted that he has shifted Nicola Sturgeon’s position on our vital oil and gas sector.

Lorna Slater has publicly stated that she wants to see an end to Scotland’s oil and gas industry within the next four years.

These flippancies from the provocative Green Party threaten tens of thousands of Scottish jobs, particularly in the North-East.

Our oil and gas sector is moving towards net zero faster than the SNP Government, which has missed its climate change targets year after year. Nicola Sturgeon’s changing views on an industry that brings prosperity and employment are not based on climate change principles, but are influenced by the extreme Green Party and a desire to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK.

With the Green Party now power sharing within government, I would hope that in their new ministerial roles Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater will start to challenge the SNP on its poor record on tackling climate change.

But this must not be at the expense of our oil and gas industry, or the wider economy.

The 18-month battle against the pandemic has once again highlighted the strength of our Union of nations. The Scottish and UK vaccine programme has been a resounding success.

Without the support of the UK Government furlough scheme, thousands of Scottish jobs would have been lost.

W E have safeguarded livelihoods and now with most restrictions lifted it is time to listen to organisations such as the CBI and Scottish Chamber of Commerce, who want the First Minister to focus on rebuilding the economy, helping businesses, and protecting jobs.

In the context of Covid case numbers, we need a plan to get Scottish people safely returned to the workplace. This will kick-start the economy in our towns and cities and support small businesses to get back on their feet.

I know for both Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater ‘endless economic growth’ is considered distasteful. I completely disagree. I want Scotland to have a strong and resilient economy.

I want large industries and small businesses to flourish. A Scotland with a solid economy will support every part of the country and our remobilisation and recovery.

It is my hope for Scotland that we are not presented with a Referendum Bill, or further talk of independence. As First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon’s duty is first and foremost to the people of Scotland, not her party or her coalition partners.

This Programme for Government must reflect what is best for Scotland as a whole – now is not the time to be pushing for a second independence referendum which will only divide us. This Programme for Government cannot be meek or unconvincing.

Without a bold plan I fear that Scotland is going to be left behind, unable to recover from the pandemic and stuck in an endless cycle of debates on separation.

My party will challenge the SNP/Green coalition government to make good on their promises and deliver a plan that will reinvigorate Scotland for all.

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