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by Louise Wilson
31 March 2021
Party leaders clash over indyref2 in first debate


Party leaders clash over indyref2 in first debate

The constitution dominated the first leaders’ debate of the election on Tuesday evening.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said a second independence referendum should take part in the first half of the next parliament, “assuming the crisis [of COVID] has passed”.

But Conservative leader Douglas Ross insisted the SNP was too focused on another poll at the expense of other issues.

The pair were joined by Labour’s Anas Sarwar, Green co-leader Lorna Slater and Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie on BBC Scotland’s programme.

Sturgeon dismissed the idea that she had focused on anything other than COVID over the last year but added: “Recovery is not a neutral thing. So long as so many of the decisions lies in the hands of Boris Johnson and Westminster, then the danger is we take the wrong decisions and go in the wrong direction just as we’ve been dragged out of the EU against our will.”

But Ross argued Scotland had benefited from being part of the UK throughout the pandemic, particularly on the rollout of the vaccines.

He criticised the Scottish Government’s decision to publish a draft bill on indyref2 earlier this month.

He said: “Why do we have bills in the Scottish Parliament to take forward another independence referendum, but not bills in the Scottish Parliament to support education, to help businesses, to protect jobs?

“None of that is happening because the Scottish government and the SNP are focused on another independence referendum.”

Meanwhile Sarwar and Rennie also set out their opposition to another referendum, arguing the focus of the next parliament must be on recovery.

Sarwar said: “These are the things that matter to people across the country. They don't care about the badges or the name calling. They care about having services that work for them – what Scotland can do, not what Scotland can’t do.”

And Rennie said: “I've seen a window into the next five years in the last few weeks – arguments over the constitution, strategy about independence, arguments between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond which have been poisonous and unpleasant. What we need to do is to put all of that behind us and choose a different future.”

However, Slater confirmed her party would back indyref2 in the next parliamentary term and accused the unionist parties of trying to stand in the way of Scottish people having a choice.

She said: “Around the room we hear people who are in favour of the Union not actually arguing for the Union, but instead arguing that the people of Scotland shouldn’t have the right to choose.”

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