John Swinney has admitted the SNP Government is not fully focused on Covid recovery, less than 24 hours after Nicola Sturgeon kick-started plans for a new White Paper on independence.
On Good Morning Scotland, the Deputy First Minister said “not absolutely everybody in the Scottish Government has been a hundred percent focused on Covid recovery.”
The Scottish Conservatives criticised his attempt to deflect from the government shifting its focus towards separating Scotland, and branded the SNP’s latest push for indyref2 a “disgraceful waste of time and resource.”
On Tuesday, the SNP-Green coalition government confirmed it will push for another divisive referendum over the next two years. The new Programme for Government included plans to begin “work on a detailed prospectus for an independent Scotland.”
Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery, Murdo Fraser MSP, said: “The SNP Government is taking its eye off the ball while Covid cases hit record numbers and we are facing an economic crisis.
“When he was grilled about the SNP’s plan to push for another divisive referendum, John Swinney admitted that the nationalist coalition is not fully focused on Covid recovery.
“His attempt to deflect by referencing other key areas of concern was laughable. Everyone accepts that the government should work on Covid recovery in the policy areas that John Swinney brought up, like agriculture, fisheries, the environment and transport.
“But it infuriates people when the SNP think another divisive referendum is more important than those policy areas, our economy, NHS and public services.
“Most Scottish people think it’s a disgraceful waste of time and resource for civil servants to be off trying to drum up a case for indyref2 when we have so many challenges to tackle.
“The SNP Government is putting independence first, ahead of the real priorities of working people across Scotland. They are risking Scotland’s Covid recovery by shifting their focus more and more towards separating Scotland.”
Rough transcript of the interview is here. It occurred at roughly 8.14am on Good Morning Scotland -
Gary Robertson: In terms of the prospectus for independence, work is to restart there. You told us of course during the election campaign that you wouldn't do anything until the pandemic was over. So, why start that work now?
John Swinney: Well, there has obviously got to be preparatory work to make sure that we can effectively and properly and openly take forward the question of independence and the public can be involved in a debate and discussion about that issue.
GR: But the pandemic isn't over?
JS: But there's obviously, if we want... we've said that the referendum, Covid permitting, will take place in the first half of this parliamentary term and that is by the end of 2023-
GR: But this preparatory work actually may be in vain then if Covid isn't over?
JS: Well, we are taking the preparatory work to make sure we can have that choice. We expect to be in a position where the pandemic is under control. Where we are able because of the success of the vaccination programme and the other mitigation measures that we are taking in place, that we will have Covid under control. That is the government's strategy, that is our strategic intent that we are pursuing.
GR: But you told us during the election that you would be completely focussed on Covid and recovery from pandemic. Now, there's part of the Scottish Government that will not be focussed on that?
JS: Well, we are going to be focussed on making sure that we take the necessary steps to deal with Covid recovery, that is exactly-
GR: But parts of the Scottish Government will be focussed on the prospectus for independence?
JS: I hate to break this news to you Gary, but not absolutely everybody in the Scottish Government has been a hundred percent focussed on Covid recovery. There are other policy questions on agriculture, on fisheries, on wider environmental questions, on transport and all sorts of things.
GR: And now even fewer of them will be focussed on Covid recovery? Because some of them will be dealing with a prospectus for independence.
JS: I think we have got to have a sense of perspective about this, Gary. Government has got to address a range of different policy priorities on any given day, and we are taking the necessary preparatory steps to ensure that Scotland can have the democratic choice that people voted for in the election in 2021, when a majority of Members of the Scottish Parliament were elected on a commitment to have a referendum on independence. That is what the government is going to take the preparatory steps to do, while we take the steps to deal with Covid recovery and all the other priorities that we address within government, but we will do that in a safe and sustainable way to make sure that people can have the choice that they voted for.