Scotland politics

SNP spring conference: Party to build new case for independence

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Media captionNicola Sturgeon addressed party members at their spring conference in Glasgow

The SNP will undertake a fresh drive for Scottish independence but not "browbeat" voters into backing change, party leader Nicola Sturgeon has said.

In September 2014, the electorate north of the border voted 55% to 45% to stay part of the United Kingdom.

The politician admitted that many had not "found our arguments compelling enough" to choose to leave.

The new strategy will begin in the summer, after May's Holyrood election and June's EU referendum.

In a message to those who did not vote "Yes" to Scottish independence, she said "we will listen to what you have to say".

Ms Sturgeon, who was addressing her party's spring conference in Glasgow, insisted that she would hear "concerns" and "address questions".

And she said the party was prepared to challenge some of the answers it gave nearly 18 months ago.

"Patiently and respectfully, we will seek to convince you that independence really does offer the best future for Scotland.

"A future shaped, not by perpetual Tory governments that we don't vote for, but by our own choices and our own endeavours," Ms Sturgeon said in a message to Scotland's electorate.

The MSP had already put it on record that a second independence referendum would "almost certainly" be triggered if Scotland voted to stay within the EU but the UK voted to leave.

Analysis

By BBC Scotland's political reporter Philip Sim

Image copyright Getty Images

Applause for independence is a bit of a no-brainer at an SNP conference.

But today in particular, it was talk of Scotland going it alone which got the delegates on their feet during Nicola Sturgeon's speech.

She promised to launch a "new initiative" to build support for Scottish independence this summer, and the SECC went wild.

But the applause came down a decibel or two during the following passages as the gathered faithful started to digest what this means.

If the drive for independence is being re-launched in the summer, it's looking increasingly unlikely that there will be any mention of it, let alone plans for a referendum, in the party's manifesto for May's elections.

And that is why, as in last year's conference, Ms Sturgeon closed by asking her activists to trust her.

For many of them, independence is priority number one, the burning issue which drew them to the SNP.

But Ms Sturgeon needs time to build the case for that - especially in light of this week's damaging economic figures.

And thus she ended for the second conference in a row by asking for trust - in effect, saying "stick with us, and we'll get there eventually".

During her 45-minute speech, Ms Sturgeon addressed other issues including Europe, health and education.

She said Scotland's place in Europe mattered and "must not become the casualty of a bitter and twisted Tory feud".

Ms Sturgeon was making reference to the splits in Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative cabinet ahead of the referendum on whether the UK should stay in or get out of the European Union.

  • on health Ms Stugeon made four commitments including - increasing the NHS's resources budget; five new elective treatment centres more money for primary, community and social care and an additional £50m for radiotherapy services.
  • on education she pledged that by the end of the next parliament, her party - if re-elected on 5 May - would double the provision of free early years education and childcare.
  • Ms Sturgeon also announced free school meals to two, three and four-year-olds in Scotland's nurseries.
  • and to loud cheers from the gathered delegates, Ms Sturgeon said that that over the next parliament her government would "deliver superfast digital broadband to 100% of premises across Scotland".

She told the conference: "What defines the SNP, more than anything, is our ambition for Scotland. Ambition for our economy. For our NHS. Ambition for our education system.

"And for the opportunities we give to our young people.

"It is also our ambition that drives our belief that Scotland should be an independent country."

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