NICOLA Sturgeon has vowed to remake the case for independence based on a vision of a multi-million pound funding boost for Scotland's NHS and public services.

In a rallying cry to the SNP conference, Sturgeon vowed to focus on the "why" of independence rather than the "when" as she dramatically unveiled an immediate three per cent pay rise for NHS Scotland staff.

Sturgeon told delegates that their mission was to convince Scots that independence offered "a much brighter future than Brexit decline and yet more Westminster austerity".

In a series of flagship policy announcements, Sturgeon said that NHS staff currently earning up to £80,000 will receive at least a three per cent increase. She pledged that the "immediate" pay rise "will be in their pay packets next month".

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Sturgeon said the move meant the vast majority of frontline NHS Scotland staff will be paid more than in NHS England. The First Minister promised that NHS nurses in Scotland would be hundreds of pounds better off than their counterparts south of the border.

She said: "We know how important the NHS is to the people of Scotland. We know that for NHS staff and all those who work in our public services, the last few years of pay restraint have been tough. That’s why I’m proud that our government was the first in the UK to lift the one per cent pay cap."

She added: "All staff working under NHS Agenda for Change and earning up to £80,000, will get an immediate three per cent pay rise and it will be in their pay packets next month. That means the vast majority of our frontline NHS staff will be paid, not just the same as in NHS England this year, but more."

"Let me give just a few examples. A nurse with five years’ experience in band five will be £430 better off. A healthcare assistant at the top of band three will be £630 better off. And an auxiliary nurse with a year’s experience will be more than £830 better off in NHS Scotland than in NHS England. And as our precious NHS reaches its 70th birthday, it comes with our grateful thanks for all that they do."

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Sturgeon also announced that over £21 million is to be invested in improving the financial support available to students at university and college. The SNP leader said the package would include £16 million to be invested next year in increasing college bursaries and university grants for students from the lowest income families.

She said: "As a first step in meeting the ambitions of the review, we’ll spend £16 million next year to increase college bursaries and university grants for students from the lowest income families and we will expand access to them."

Sturgeon also pledged to set up 750 new or refurbished nurseries to help deliver an increase in free pre-school provision.

Sturgeon insisted that winning a majority for independence ahead of a second referendum is “well within our grasp”.

However, she gave no details of when a second Scottish independence referendum could be held.

Sturgeon said Scots are increasingly worn down by the "despair and despondency” of Brexit.

She hit out at the EU Withdrawal Bill, which is due to come before MPs in the Commons on Tuesday. Sturgeon said that as a result of the UK Government's legislation, "the powers of our parliament are under threat like never before".

In a pitch to the party faithful in a packed conference hall in Aberdeen, Sturgeon said the case for independence was “getting stronger by the day”.

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However, Sturgeon hinted that the SNP would now focus on building the case for independence rather than on the timing of a second referendum. Sturgeon is to unveil her next steps on the SNP's referendum plans in autumn 2018 when the outline of a Brexit deal is due to be carved out.

However, the First Minister signalled to delegates that the SNP's priority was now to make an attractive case for independence to the electorate rather than focus on timing. She said: "Confidence in the independence case is growing. So as we wait for the fog of Brexit to clear, our opportunity – indeed, our responsibility – is this. Not just to focus on the "when' of independence but to use our energy and passion to persuade those who still ask 'why?'. Right now, that is the more important task.

"If we do that, let me tell you this – I am more certain than ever before that persuading a majority of our fellow citizens that Scotland should be an independent country is well within our grasp. Our message of hope and ambition is in tune with a country that feels optimistic about the future. So let us grasp that opportunity."

Sturgeon also said that the Growth Commission's blueprint had given the SNP the chance to remake "the case for independence".

The document was delivered last month by former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson. Under Wilson's recommendations, Scotland would keep the pound for at least 10 years, while public spending would be limited in an attempt to reduce the deficit. Sturgeon told the 2,000 delegates at the conference that the document lays "strong foundations for independence" and "busts some Westminster myths".

She added: "Our task is to persuade them that this better future is an independent one. The Growth Commission provides the platform on which we will renew the case for independence. It doesn’t shy away from challenges – and nor should it. It doesn’t pretend there are always easy answers – no-one believes that. But it does lay strong foundations for independence. And it busts some Westminster myths along the way."

Sturgeon added: "The case for independence is strong. And it is getting stronger by the day."

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Unions and Labour welcomed the pay increase, but said a higher increase was needed following years of pay restraint.

Tom Waterson, chair of the Unison union's Scotland health committee, said: "The money going into the pay packets of staff is welcome, but it still doesn't make up for the 40 per cent we lost during the last eight years of austerity."

Scottish Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar added: "We need to see a longer-term commitment on pay and a credible and deliverable workforce plan."

However, Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw attacked Sturgeon's address as a "tired speech from a leader running out of time."

He said: “This was yet another speech where Nicola Sturgeon’s domestic responsibilities are a warm-up to the main act – banging on about independence."