Internal disputes ‘risk to SNP success’ – Sturgeon

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Media captionNicola Sturgeon says she has spent her whole adult life working for Scottish independence

Nicola Sturgeon has said the SNP needs to “focus on what matters to people” ahead of next year’s election and put aside internal disputes.

The first minister was speaking after a number of public rows about her party’s policies and strategies.

The SNP leader said internal fighting would be a turn off for voters.

There has been controversy over how the SNP selects candidates as well as the prospect of a rival pro-independence party in recent weeks.

Ms Sturgeon claimed the SNP was in a “position of strength” going into the 2021 election.

But, in the first of a series of interviews BBC Scotland is conducting with Scottish party leaders, Ms Sturgeon said any trust from voters could be easily lost.

She said: “The SNP is in a position of strength and we’ve got as a party to recognise that we don’t exist in some kind of bubble.

“Right now the majority of the people in the country we serve are worried about their health and they’re worried about their ability to pay their bills.

“Opinion polls would suggest they massively trust the SNP to lead them through that crisis. If they ever thought the SNP was turning away from that priority and focusing on its own agendas and engaging in infighting I’m sure they would pass a verdict on that.”

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UK Parliament

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Joanna Cherry is currently an MP representing Edinburgh South West but was unhappy at the party’s decision on how Holyrood candidates are to be selected

In July some SNP and pro-independence campaigners suggested setting up a new party ahead of the Holyrood elections in 2021 to target the regional list seats to “maximise the pro-Yes vote”.

More recently Joanna Cherry reluctantly ruled out standing for Ruth Davidson’s Holyrood seat in next year’s Holyrood election and criticised an SNP rule change.

The Edinburgh South West MP said the change approved by the SNP’s governing body meant she would have to resign as an MP first if she wanted to stand in Edinburgh Central.

Ms Sturgeon insisted the party needed to “focus on what matters to people out there” and move away from “internal disputes, feuds or personality clashes”.

The impact of coronavirus

The first minister said the new programme for government, set to be unveiled at Holyrood in September, would be “heavily influenced by the recovery from Covid”.

She added that a shake-up of how social care is delivered “will be uppermost in our minds as we come out of the immediate crisis”.

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Opposition party suggestions that a “National Care Service” is created to help deal with social care delivery in Scotland are being considered by the first minister

Ms Sturgeon said she would serve the full term if elected first minister and said it was “bonkers” to suggest she did not want to see an independent Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon was asked about a number of other issues in a wide-ranging interview. These included:

The four nations approach to battling Covid-19

The UK and devolved governments are attempting to agree a joint approach to driving down coronavirus to the lowest possible levels and keeping it there.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said a joint statement would be released pledging to work together to defeat the virus.

Ms Sturgeon revealed talks have not reached a conclusion yet but she hoped a “substantive agreement” could be reached.

She said: “For reasons I don’t fully understand there seems to be, on the part of the UK government, an unwillingness to use the word elimination and I don’t really know why that is the case.”

The row over how exam grades are decided

The first minister has faced criticism over the way high school grades have been decided in the wake of all exams being cancelled because of coronavirus.

Teachers were asked to estimate grades – but a quarter of these have been adjusted downwards during the SQA’s moderation process.

The pass rate of pupils in the most deprived data zones was reduced by 15.2% from teacher estimates while for students in more affluent areas it was reduced by 6.9%, leading to claims that schools’ past exam performance was unfairly used to adjust the results.

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PA Media

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Protesters turned out in Glasgow on Friday amid anger about the way pupils’ grades have been decided this year

Ms Sturgeon said she understood the anger from pupils but said, “if we had gone for purely teacher assessment without any moderation we would have run the risk of undermining the integrity of the whole system.”

She added: “When we couldn’t do exams a system had to be put in place but we now have another stage in the process which is allowing young people to say this is not fair for me.”

The Holyrood inquiry into the Alex Salmond complaints

The first minister will appear before a Holyrood committee investigating the handling of harassment complaints against her predecessor Alex Salmond.

It will be the first time Ms Sturgeon is quizzed by MSPs since the Scottish government conceded that an internal investigation of the complaints had been unlawful.

The SNP leader said: “There will be an element of relief for me in that because lots of things have been said about me that I’ve not been able to address because of other proceedings going on.

“I will set out my side of things and people can make up their own minds, I have nothing to fear from that.”

Did Scotland’s lockdown come too late?

The timing of the decision to go into lockdown has been the subject of much discussion since March.

One study suggested more than 2,000 coronavirus deaths could have been prevented if Scotland had locked down two weeks earlier.

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And Ms Sturgeon said the data at the time suggested Scotland was a couple of weeks behind England on the infection curve.

She added: “So in reality we probably went into lockdown a bit earlier.

“Was that early enough?

“Until my dying day I will probably agonise over these judgements but we took the best decisions we could at the time.”

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