The Scottish Government has been laser-focused over the past year on tackling the pandemic. That will remain the case as we work to keep Scotland safe.
We know, however, that because of the incredible efforts of the people of Scotland and the vaccination programme, better times lie ahead.
The question we face as we come out of the health crisis is this: who has the right to decide the kind of country Scotland should be after the pandemic?
Should it be the people who live here – or Westminster governments?
The Scottish Government believes that the people of Scotland have the right to decide how Scotland recovers from the pandemic and what sort of country they wish to build after the crisis. To ensure the people of Scotland have that right, the Scottish Government believes there should be an independence referendum within the next term of the Scottish Parliament once the public health crisis is over.
The evidence of recent years tells us what will happen if Westminster maintains, and tightens, its control.
The jobs recovery we all want to see will be held back by the permanent hit of a hard Brexit which is already hitting our economy.
There will be no legal guarantee that our NHS will be safe from post-Brexit trade deals.
The steady and systematic undermining of devolution and the Scottish Parliament since the Brexit vote is likely to continue.
In an independent Scotland we will always get the governments we vote for. As we recover from the pandemic those governments will put Scotland's economy – not Brexit – first.
Protection of our NHS and control of Scotland's abundant resources as well as spending and taxation decisions will be in Scotland's hands.
If there is a majority in the Scottish Parliament after the forthcoming election for this bill there can be no democratic justification whatsoever for any Westminster government to seek to block a post-pandemic referendum.
The timing of that referendum should be a matter for the next Scottish Parliament to decide, taking account of the state of the pandemic. The Scottish Government believes that it should be within the first half of the next parliamentary term, when it is safe to do so.
Scotland's recovery should be made in Scotland by the people who live here and who care most about Scotland. That is why Scotland's future should be Scotland's choice.
Michael Russell MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, Europe and External Affairs
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