Willie Rennie: Independence Bill makes SNP priorities clear

The Scottish Government is not lacking for problems which require urgent action.

Over the last few weeks we have had reports that two thirds of emergency GP training places are going unfilled. Police union chiefs told a fringe meeting at SNP conference that police cars are being held together with duct tape and cable ties. Our economic growth is lagging behind the rest of the UK.

But today SNP ministers made their priority clear with the publication of a new draft bill for a second independence referendum.

Years of divisive constitutional wrangling and distraction will harm our public services. The impact of the first independence referendum proved this. Ministers took their eye off the ball. MSPs were forced to sit through debate after debate of SNP members sounding off about independence.

Everything else took a backseat, from averting the shambolic centralisation of Police Scotland to halting the slide in attainment in our schools. Cancer and A&E treatment and nothing was done to prevent the looming GP crisis.

Former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has admitted that difficult decisions were put to one side because it was thought that they would have damaged prospects for independence.

Brexit presents major challenges for Scotland and the failure of the UK government to set out what it will mean is shameful. This is why Lib Dems want people to have their say on the final deal once it has been negotiated.

But the priority for Scotland now must be working to protect things like our place in the single market on a UK wide basis, not pulling up the drawbridge.

Scotland has not had a mental health strategy since the end of last year but the SNP managed to turn around a referendum bill in weeks. Civil servants have been poring over 20 pages of clauses and schedules. It is now crystal clear that the SNP’s priority is not education. It is not health, or even working to protect the benefits of our EU membership. It is always independence.

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