Rishi Sunak has said he wants to work “constructively” with the Scottish Government amid continuing tension over the SNP administration’s demands for a fresh independence referendum and Scotland’s gender recognition laws.
Following talks on Thursday evening in Inverness with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the Prime Minister said that while they are “not going to agree on everything”, he believes there is scope for co-operation.
“What I want to do as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is work constructively with the Scottish Government to make a difference to people in Scotland,” he told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme.
“We’ve got lots of challenges that we all face collectively around the UK and where we can work together and make a difference, we should.”
Ms Sturgeon said their meeting had been “perfectly constructive and cordial” and included a discussion on the pressures facing the NHS.
However, she said Mr Sunak had not come with a promise of any new money for the health service in Scotland.
“No indication from the Prime Minister of new money, but hopefully we will see strong investment in the NHS,” the First Minister told Good Morning Scotland.
“The Scottish Government continues to work hard to avert strike action in the NHS.”
On the second day of his visit to Scotland, Mr Sunak and Ms Sturgeon jointly announced two new green freeports will be established – Inverness and Cromarty Firth, and in the Firth of Forth.
It was great to be in Inverness today meeting rescue services and hearing more about the life-saving work they do every day. I also sat down with First Minister @NicolaSturgeon to discuss the challenges we jointly face and how best to deliver for communities across the UK. pic.twitter.com/CTuqMAXkgM
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) January 12, 2023
Backed by up to £52 million in UK Government funding, the new sites are expected to bring forward an estimated £10.8 billion of private and public investment and create more than 75,000 new, high-skilled jobs.
Mr Sunak said: “In extending the benefits of freeports to Scotland, we are unleashing the potential of the Firth of Forth and Inverness and Cromarty Firth – backing the delivery of thousands of high-quality green jobs for future generations as we continue to make gains on our commitments to transition to net zero.”
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney described it as a “milestone achievement in the process to deliver green freeports for Scotland”.
Earlier, the Prime Minister said it is important the UK and Scottish governments work together on areas that matter to the people of Scotland, while disagreeing on the issue of independence.
He said the Supreme Court had made clear that the Scottish Government does not have the power to legislate for a new referendum without the agreement of Westminster.
“The Scottish Government took this case to the Supreme Court, which was completely clear about the ability of the Scottish Government to do that (hold a referendum) unilaterally,” he said.
“What I want to do is have a constructive dialogue with the Scottish Government to make sure we can continue to deliver for the people of Scotland.”
Mr Sunak also said he is “concerned” about the impact across the wider UK of changes in gender recognition legislation passed last month by the Holyrood Parliament.
The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill will allow trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate without the need for a medical diagnosis.
The Prime Minister declined to say whether Westminster could block the legislation, saying the Government is taking advice on the issue “as is completely standard practice”.
He added: “Obviously this is a very sensitive area and I know there were very robust debates and exchanges on it as the Bill was passing in Scotland.
“There may be impacts across the UK that we need to be aware of and understand the impact of them, and that’s what we’re doing, and once the Government has received final advice it will set out next steps.”
Later, SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said the UK Government should not block the Bill.
He told Good Morning Scotland: “This is not just a question about the GRR (Gender Recognition Reform Bill) or people’s individual views on it. This is about democracy.
“The Scottish Parliament has voted in favour of legislation that sits within devolved competencies, and it’s incumbent upon Westminster to ensure that legislation is passed in full.”
Mr Flynn also said economic trouble in the UK demonstrates the need for a discussion about Scottish independence.
He said: “Real wages are at a level akin to the early 2000s, inflation’s at a 40-year high, we’ve seen the currency collapse last year. We’ve seen the Government collapse on numerous occasions last year.
“If we want to have stability, if we want to have that positive future – to offer a little bit of hope to people, because things are grim right now – then we need to have that discussion about Scottish independence and how we do things differently.”