NICOLA STURGEON should park plans to hold a second independence referendum for at least five years, a former Scottish first minister has said.
Jack McConnell was the last Labour politician to hold the post, losing to the SNP in 2007.
While he said it would have been impossible to have avoided having a debate on Scotland’s future in the UK, he insisted the constitutional question had dominated life north of the border too much over the last decade.
As a result Lord McConnell said Ms Sturgeon, the current First Minister, should put plans for a second vote on independence on hold for a minimum of five years.
She has already pushed back plans for a fresh ballot to be held after the SNP lost 21 seats at Westminster in June’s snap election, with Ms Sturgeon saying then she will not revisit the issue until at least autumn 2018.
Lord McConnell said: “My view at the moment would certainly be that it would be wise for her to park that for some time and to put at least a minimum number of years on it.
“I would have said at least five, my own preference would be much longer than that, but at least five depending on public demand and circumstance.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Stephen Jardine programme, he said: “The important thing right now is to get back to the government of Scotland.”
The former MSP who is now a Labour peer said: “You can’t avoid a debate on Scotland either being part of the United Kingdom or being independent forever, that debate was going to have to come at some point.”
But he added it had “dominated things too much for the last 10 years”, arguing “weaknesses” in the other political parties in Scotland had helped the SNP keep independence on the agenda.
“We’ve had this debate now for several years, it’s dominated everything,” Lord McConnell said.
“It’s dominated decision making, not just the public debate, but actually maybe slowed down government and made every decision dependent on how it might impact on an independence referendum.”
He stressed there was a “big job to be done” by politicians north of the border, saying: “Scottish education is sliding and that needs to be reversed, we need to get ourselves back up the international league again.”
He also said: “I think there are genuine worries developing in the health service that need to be tackled. And I’m really worried about our economy.”
The financial crash in 2008 meant both the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland “almost collapsed”, Lord McConnell added.
The financial services sector at the time had been key to Scotland’s economy and the former first minister said there had been little debate on what could replace that in the future.
He argued: “There’s never really been a proper public debate about what replaces that and what is our strategy for the next 10 years and I think that is desperately needed.
“Education demands that immediate action, both the Scottish Government and the opposition parties are now talking about that at the level of priority it should be, but I think there are economic problems in Scotland caused by the decline of those huge financial services institutions, a relative decline, and we need to start properly debating what are the next big companies, what are the next big sectors for Scotland to grow both at home and to export.
“We can’t survive on oil and gas forever, we need to be generating other economic activity as well.”