Nicola Sturgeon today announced a one-off £500 ‘thank you payment’ for all full-time NHS workers and adult social care staff in Scotland in recognition of their ‘extraordinary service’ during the coronavirus crisis.
Ms Sturgeon said people who have worked in hospitals and care homes deserve the ‘no strings attached’ money after facing the ‘toughest of years’.
The cash will come from the Scottish government’s coffers but Ms Sturgeon has asked Boris Johnson to waive the tax which would normally be owed on such a payment.
The announcement, made at the SNP’s virtual winter conference, came as Ms Sturgeon hinted she will try to bypass Mr Johnson if he continues to block a second referendum on independence.
The First Minister said she will seek the ‘authority’ of voters at next year’s Holyrood elections for a re-run of the 2014 border poll as she claimed she needed ‘no one else’s’ permission to hold a ‘legal independence referendum’.
She argued that if a majority of Scots want to split from the UK then ‘we have a right’ to do so.
She said that ‘inalienable right of self determination cannot, and will not, be subject to a Westminster veto’.
The UK Government must give permission for an independence referendum to go ahead but Mr Johnson is adamant he will not allow one to take place.
Ms Sturgeon this morning said she is not ruling out a legal challenge to ‘test’ the Government’s right to decide on the matter and her comments this afternoon suggest she could try to simply ignore the Prime Minister if he stands in her way.
Mr Johnson had earlier slapped down calls for a fresh independence referendum.
The PM’s Official Spokesman said: ‘The people of Scotland had a vote on this and they voted very clearly to remain part of the UK.’
Nicola Sturgeon (pictured today) insisted ‘the sooner the better’ on the timing of a new vote on splitting up the UK, saying Scotland needed the powers to ‘rebuild’ after coronavirus in the way its people wanted
This morning she said she was ‘confident’ of prevailing, pointing to polls showing a surge in support for breaking up the union north of the border, with one survey showing record 58 per cent backing.
The SNP leader declined to give a specific date, despite other senior colleagues saying a vote should happen within months of Holyrood elections in May.
‘I want to see it in the early part of the next term of the Scottish Parliament, rather than the later part,’ she told Sky News.
Ms Sturgeon said it was ‘really important’ that Scotland can rebuild from coronavirus in the way that its people want, rather ‘in the image of Boris Johnson and his band of Brexiteers’.
‘We are still like other countries the world over in the midst of a global pandemic,’ she insisted. My energies are focused on that.’
Pressed again on the timing of a referendum, she added: ‘I’m not ruling anything out, I’m not ruling anything in on that.’
Ms Sturgeon refused to rule out launching a legal challenge should the UK Government continue to block a second border poll.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I have never ruled out having a situation where this question, which has never been determined in courts – of does the Scottish Parliament have the power to have a referendum regardless of what Westminster says, or not? That’s never been tested. I have never ruled that out.
‘But I don’t think that should be the preference.
‘Me and Boris Johnson can argue the toss over whether Scotland should be independent or not – it’s entirely legitimate for him to argue against it.
‘What’s not, in my view, legitimate or acceptable is for him to say that’s not for the Scottish people to decide and he can somehow stand in the way of democracy.’
In her speech this afternoon, Ms Sturgeon will announce a 100million fund to help hard up Scots this winter, including direct payments of £100 to all families with children in receipt of free school meals.
The Scottish First Minister will say the coronavirus pandemic has shown that it should no longer be accepted that problems with poverty and inequality are ‘inevitable or insoluble’.
Ms Sturgeon trolled Boris Johnson (pictured in Downing Street this morning) over his unpopularity north of the border, swiping that he is ‘inadvertently an advocate’ for the separatist case
In addition, it will help pay to get older people connected online and provide help for the homeless.
While the First Minister will stress Scotland does not have to be independent for the SNP government to ‘start doing the right things’, she will complain that Westminster’s control over much of the social security system north of the border makes it harder for ministers to act.
She will state: ‘We must make sure we are working to the right plan, with all the tools we need to do the job.’