Hope needed more than ever in face of unfolding calamity, Sturgeon to say

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Scotland needs to offer people “optimism and hope” to contrast with the “unfolding calamity” of a Westminster Government which “stumbles from disaster to disaster” Nicola Sturgeon will say.

With less than six months to go until the UK formally leaves the European Union, Theresa May’s Brexit plans have failed to win the support of leaders there and some within her own party.

With the Prime Minister coming under fire, the Scottish First Minister will tell her party’s annual conference that “it is up to us – now more than ever – to offer optimism and hope”.

Ms Sturgeon will tell SNP activists in Glasgow: “The Westminster Government stumbles from day to day and disaster to disaster. It’s hard to watch that unfolding calamity and feel anything other than despair.”

But she will seek to contrast the situation at Westminster with the prospect of independence.

Ms Sturgeon will say: “Just think how much more hope will be possible when we take Scotland’s future into Scotland’s hands and become an independent country.

“An independent Scotland, just as Scotland is now, will be a beacon for progressive values – equality, opportunity, diversity and fairness. Indeed those values feel more important today than ever before in my lifetime.”

She will use her speech to unveil details of a new Fair Work First approach to business – which will mean companies will have to meet a number of criteria if they want to win public cash, either in the form of grants or contracts.

While Scotland has the largest proportion of workers in the UK who are paid the living wage, Ms Sturgeon will argue more needs to be done to tackle the use of zero hours contracts and the gender pay gap.

The Scottish Government will “adopt a new default position” of “Fair Work First”, she will pledge.

On this the First Minister will say: “By the end of this parliament, we will extend fair work criteria to as many funding streams and business support grants as we can.

“And, we will extend the range of Scottish Government and public sector contracts that fair work criteria apply to.

“Fair Work First means investment in skills and training, no exploitative zero hours contracts, action on gender pay, and genuine workforce engagement, including with trade unions. And, of course, payment of the living wage.”

While she will add the Scottish Government does not have “the constitutional power to make fair work a legal requirement” she will say ministers can use “the financial power of government to make it a practical reality”.

The speech comes after Ms Sturgeon made it plain SNP MPs would back a so-called People’s Vote on Brexit if the issue comes before the House of Commons.

She also insisted that a referendum on the final terms of the UK’s departure deal with Europe would not set a precedent for Scotland.

The First Minister will outline her thinking on the possibility of a second independence referendum when more details are known about the impact of Brexit.

But her opponents said the SNP leader must take the prospect of another ballot on leaving the UK off the table.

Pamela Nash, chief executive of the pro-UK campaign group Scotland in Union, said: “There is nothing optimistic about Scotland leaving the United Kingdom. The best future for our country is as part of the UK, and that’s a belief shared by the majority of people in Scotland.

“Nicola Sturgeon should use her conference speech today to end the uncertainty, and take a divisive and unnecessary second independence referendum off the table.”

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