Scotland is a “nation on the brink of making history”, Nicola Sturgeon declared, as she insisted the country’s people have the “right” to choose their own future in a second independence referendum.
While Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vetoed SNP calls for a fresh vote on the issue, the First Minister has said she hopes another ballot could be held in the early part of the next term of the Scottish Parliament.
The question is set to dominate next May’s Holyrood elections, with Sturgeon’s party using the campaign to step up their demands for another referendum.
Recent opinion polls have suggested that a majority of Scots now support the country becoming independent.
And Sturgeon, addressing the SNP annual conference, told party activists that “the people of Scotland have the right to choose their future”.
She stated: “Scotland is now a nation on the brink of making history.
“Independence is in clear sight – and if we show unity of purpose, humility and hard work, I have never been so certain that we will deliver it.”
Her comments on unity came after SNP MP Joanna Cherry used an interview with the Times newspaper to hit out at the “cult of leader” in the party, insisting it is damaging to “put all your faith on one person”,
Cherry said a “more collegiate leadership” style is needed, as she also criticised the “no debate mentality” as being “really unhealthy”.
The MP said: “It’s an unfortunate tendency in modern political discourse, which I’ve labelled #nodebate.
“It typifies a small minority in my party and has bled through from the debate about reform of the Gender Recognition Act, to include alternative plans for an independence referendum. I think it’s very unhealthy and I don’t think it represents the majority view in the party.”
SNP leader Sturgeon said that, in order to win independence, the party must “reach out to all of Scotland like never before”.
Speaking at the start of the online event, she said: “Let us demonstrate, with cool heads and patient persuasion, that Scotland is ready to take its place in the global family of independent nations.”
Support for independence has risen to become the “sustained and majority view in public opinion this year,” Sturgeon said.
And she stressed that, while the “primary focus” must currently be on tackling the coronavirus pandemic, “Scotland must also be ready for what comes next”.
She told the conference that Covid-19 had “taken thousands of lives” and “upended our society”, with businesses and the economy “severely” damaged.
But she claimed that with independence Scotland could have a “resilient economy, with job creation and fairness at its heart” and would be able to “protect and invest in public services like our NHS”.
Sturgeon continued: “We can overcome poverty, inequality, and we lead the way in tackling the climate emergency.
“The question for all of us as we look ahead to the election next May is this – who should be taking the decisions that shape our futures?
“We know that it is the people who live here, wherever they come from, who can best harness Scotland’s immense human and natural resources to the benefit of everyone.”