Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon on Monday pledged to step up efforts to secure independence for her country, even if she loses a crucial court case on whether she can legally hold a referendum.
Sturgeon is seeking a ruling from the Supreme Court in London on whether her administration has the authority to hold another plebiscite without the British government’s consent. She said that, should the case fail, she would take the argument to Scottish voters during the next UK general election, due in 2024.
In her closing address to the Scottish National party’s first in-person annual conference since the Covid-19 outbreak, held in Aberdeen, the first minister said she would “never ever give up on Scottish democracy” and vowed her party could make an optimistic case for independence.
“We have got everything it takes to be a successful independent country,” Sturgeon said. “We are the independence generation. And I believe — firmly — that we will be the first in the modern world to live in an independent Scotland.”
She acknowledged that the party needed to make a strong economic argument to persuade Scots, who voted 55 per cent to 45 per cent in a 2014 referendum to remain in the union with England. She also argued that being part of a “failing” UK economy was a bigger risk than going alone, reiterating that Scotland could emulate other small European nations that she said were richer and more equal than the UK.
Sturgeon told delegates that an independent Scotland would use its remaining oil revenues and new borrowing powers to set up a fund that could invest as much as £20bn within the first decade of self-government — an idea first floated in a previous campaign.
“Our job is to make the case and win the argument,” Sturgeon said. “That means not just talking to ourselves, but reaching out to others not yet persuaded.”
Sturgeon said while it was understandable that people had concerns about the economic consequences of breaking away from the UK, it was “equally fair to point out that so much of the uncertainty and crisis we face is not because of independence” but owing to the country not having self rule. The Scottish government would release a paper making the economic case for independence next Monday, she added.
The first minister’s critics have accused her of being “obsessed” with the constitutional question when her focus should be on the economy and helping people deal with the cost of living crisis. She has also been criticised for failing to answer questions on which currency an independent Scotland would use or how it would manage a trade border with England during her past eight years in power.
A UK government spokesperson said Scots wanted their governments to focus “on the issues that matter to them, not talking about another independence referendum”.
They added that the government in Westminster would argue at the supreme court that “a bill legislating for a referendum on independence would be outside the legislative competence of the Scottish parliament.”