John Swinney grilled on IndyRef2 by Nick Robinson
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John Swinney was grilled by BBC journalist Nick Robinson and was confronted with criticisms from a major Scottish business owner that the SNP should not be focused on independence. Sir Tom Hunter said on the radio that Nicola Sturgeon’s desire to hold a referendum before 2023 was a “wrong move” as he pointed to major problems facing Scotland which have not been addressed. Mr Robinson exclaimed it looked as if SNP supporters did not want rallying cries for independence and wanted them to stop “banging on” about an immediate independence referendum.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Mr Swinney was invited to discuss the coronavirus pandemic following the news several Omicron variants were found in Scotland.
But Mr Robinson wanted to put criticisms to the SNP deputy leader that the Scottish Government was ignoring big issues affecting the country in favour of independence.
Entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter said on the Go Radio Business Show he wanted First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to focus on the pandemic and Scotland’s falling education rankings.
While he said he could back Scottish independence, following Ms Sturgeon’s claim she would stay in power until at least 2026, the businessman said it was not the time for it now.
Mr Robinson asked whether it was right for the SNP to focus so heavily on independence in their party conference and instead ignore the issue until the other concerns are addressed.
Mr Swinney replied: “Some of the fundamental issues that face Scotland are inescapable.
“We’ve got control and approach by the UK government, which as I said in my speech on Saturday, [that are a] very real threat to the survival of devolution.
“The UK Government through the internal market is eroding the ability of people in Scotland to exercise self-government on the basis that people have opted to do so in the 1997 referendum.
“So Scotland faces a choice, do we want to have devolution and self-government eroded or do we move to take responsibility for these issues…”
Mr Robinson interrupted and said the SNP had a choice about not “banging on” about changing the constitution and “get on with the job of government”.
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Mr Swinney continued: “But we are getting on with the job of government and we do that all the time.
“That’s why we see the strengthening performance on the economy… the Scottish economy is growing substantially.
“We see within the health service, yes, an enormous strain because of Covid.
“But we’re seeing an improving performance in accident and emergency.
“So in a whole host of different areas, we are seeing the public services recovering under SNP stewardship from the Covid crisis.”
Sir Tom, who has backed the SNP in the past, attacked the SNP for their independence campaigning and said it was not the time to focus on the issue.
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He said on the radio: “To say she’s going to bring a new independence debate before they end 2023 I think is a wrong move…
“We have got so many things in front of us. We’re coming out of a global health crisis. And the unintended consequences of that in Scotland for undiagnosed cancer.
“I talk to people in the health service and the health service is at a crisis point, for all sorts of reasons.
“So if that was the only thing politicians had to solve, that would be big enough.”
Sir Tom also remarked he was “gutted” to see Scotland’s education system slipping down world rankings and the economy stagnating.
The SNP conference was held virtually over the weekend with Ms Sturgeon closing the event on Monday.
During his speech, Mr Swinney told supporters the pandemic had highlighted inequalities in society and the SNP would be seeking to address that.
Mr Swinney also said he was “impatient” for independence and said support was growing every day.
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