THE SNP’s goal of Scottish independence is “clearly in sight”, Nicola Sturgeon has told party members.
With less than six months to go until the UK formally leaves the European Union the First Minister said Westminster was stumbling “from disaster to disaster”, while the Scottish Government was living up to its responsibilities and helping with “meeting the global challenges of our age”.
Speaking at the SNP conference in Glasgow, Ms Sturgeon said: “Just think how much more we could do, free of the chaos and incompetence of Westminster.
“Just think how much more hope will be possible when we take Scotland’s future into Scotland’s hands and become an independent country.
“An independent Scotland, just as Scotland is now, will be a beacon for progressive values – equality, opportunity, diversity and fairness.
“Indeed, those values feel more important today than at any time in my life.”
The speech comes after Ms Sturgeon made it plain SNP MPs would back a so-called People’s Vote on Brexit if the issue comes before the House of Commons.
She also insisted a referendum on the final terms of the UK’s departure deal with Europe would not set a precedent for Scotland.
The First Minister will outline her thinking on the possibility of a second independence referendum when more details are known about the impact of Brexit.
Turning to Theresa May’s Conservative administration, she said: “It is a shambles.
“It is hard to watch that unfolding calamity with anything other than horror.”
She went on to sent a “blunt” message to the Prime Minister, urging her to end the UK Government’s “hostile environment policy” towards immigrants.
The First Minister continued: “In the face of rising prejudice and intolerance across the world, I am proud that our party welcomes those who come here from other countries.
“To everyone who has chosen to make Scotland your home, no matter where you come from, let me say this again today – we value your contribution.
“Ours is a better country for having you here and we want you to stay.”
Ms Sturgeon told the conference the NHS was the country’s “most precious public service”.
However, she said recruitment was a “big challenge” which would get “even bigger as Brexit bites”.
To help attract more people into nursing, she announced plans to increase the £6,500 bursary student nurses receive to £10,000 a year in two years.
She said: “We know the value of our nurses. We know the value of our NHS.
To help workers, the First Minister announced a “new default position” for her government – Fair Work First.
Under this, she made clear that companies looking to get public cash – whether that be in grants or contracts – will have to meet certain criteria, such as paying staff the living wage, not using zero hours contracts and working to reduce the gender pay gap.
“We may not yet have the constitutional power to make fair work a legal requirement,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“But we do have the financial power of government to make it a practical reality.”