Nicola Sturgeon has opened the Scottish National party annual conference by telling members she has “never been so certain” the country will achieve independence.
The first minister said Scotland was “a nation on the cusp of making history” as she insisted the SNP’s goal of independence was “in clear sight”.
Her comments followed last December’s “landslide victory” in Scotland during the UK general elections, in which the SNP won 48 of the 59 available seats.
Since then, several opinion polls have suggested a majority of Scots are in favour of leaving the UK.
While Boris Johnson has repeatedly said he will not allow another referendum on Scottish independence to take place, Sturgeon said a majority for her party in next year’s Holyrood election should enable such a vote to happen.
Sturgeon told the conference, which is taking place online from Saturday because of coronavirus: “Scotland is now a nation on the cusp of making history. Independence is in clear sight – and with unity of purpose, humility and hard work I have never been so certain that we will deliver it.
“The people of Scotland have the right to choose their future. Let’s now focus all our efforts on making sure we bring about that better country they and future generations deserve.”
The SNP leader will say support for independence among Scots has now “risen to become the sustained and majority view in public opinion”.
She added that, while the primary focus must currently be on tackling the coronavirus pandemic, “Scotland must also be ready for what comes next”.
She told the conference that Covid-19 had taken thousands of lives and upended Scottish society, with businesses and the economy severely damaged.
But she claimed that with independence Scotland could have a “resilient economy, with job creation and fairness at its heart” and would be able to protect and invest in public services like the NHS.
She said: “We can overcome poverty, inequality, and we lead the way in tackling the climate emergency. The question for all of us as we look ahead to the election next May is this – who should be taking the decisions that shape our futures?
“We know that it is the people who live here, wherever they come from, who can best harness Scotland’s immense human and natural resources to the benefit of everyone.”
She said the main question leading up to the election next May was: “Who should be taking the decisions that will shape our futures? We know that it is the people who live here, wherever they come from, who can best harness Scotland’s immense human and natural resources to the benefit of everyone.”
Sturgeon’s opponents have said she should focus on the fight against Covid-19.
The Scottish Labour constitution spokesman, Anas Sarwar, said: “This proves that Nicola Sturgeon only has one priority – dividing the people of Scotland.
“In the midst of a global pandemic, when people are losing their jobs and saying goodbye to loved ones, it is insulting that she wants to focus on independence.”
Pamela Nash, the chief executive of the pro-UK Scotland in Union group, said: “Issuing a rallying cry for independence when people across Scotland are struggling with the devastating impact of the pandemic is deeply insulting. The next few years must be all about recovery from coronavirus, and that should be the entire focus for the Scottish government.”
In early November, an Ipsos Mori poll found Scottish voters believed the economy, health and Brexit were more important issues than independence, while a narrow majority of voters did not want a referendum next year, even if the SNP won a majority of seats.