Nicola Sturgeon has said she 100 per cent stands by her claim the Scottish Labour leader told her she would drop her party’s opposition to a second independence referendum in the wake of the vote for Brexit.
The First Minister has come under fire from some quarters for apparently revealing details of a private conversation she had with Lothian MSP Kezia Dugdale in the immediate aftermath of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. Ms Sturgeon’s claims, made in a live TV leaders’ debate, prompted Scottish Conservative leader and Edinburgh Central MSP Ruth Davidson to call her a “clype”.
As the leaders clashed at First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood the day before the General Election, she pressed the SNP leader on the issue, demanding to know “why she believes private conversations shouldn’t stay private?”
Ms Sturgeon said she did believe that – but claimed Ms Davidson had already made the conversation public knowledge when she referred to it in a newspaper interview in February.
“That is what gave me the ability to talk about that,” the First Minister said.
“The part, of course, in that conversation that Kezia Dugdale didn’t refer to was the part I spoke about last night and stand by 100 per cent.”
In the election debate on Tuesday, Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Labour leader had told her the vote for Brexit in June 2016 “changed everything” and “Labour should stop opposing a referendum”.
But with the election taking place today, the SNP leader went on to accuse her rivals of using the issue of independence as a “smokescreen” in the election campaign.
She said: “In the Tories’ case, it’s because they don’t want to talk about their toxic polices.
“Toxic policies like the rape clause that made Ruth Davidson squirm so much [on Tuesday] last night, toxic polices like austerity cuts and extreme Brexit, and, of course, removing the rights of pensioners. So, the key question is how we stop the Tories getting a stronger hand to do more damage to Scotland.”
Ms Dugdale said: “If the last 24 hours show us anything, it is that the First Minister will say anything to deflect from the SNP’s appalling record in office.”
Ms Sturgeon replied: “I know what I said in that conversation and so does she. I am standing here in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament and I am certain about what was said.”
The Labour leader went on to attack the government’s record on the NHS, highlighting that the Scottish health service faced the highest-ever number of nursing and midwifery vacancies, blaming it on the SNP leader’s decision as health secretary to “slash” places for student nurses and midwives.
Ms Dugdale was chastised by the Presiding Officer for using unparliamentary language after saying “so, there are enough nurses in the health service, that’s the latest fib from the First Minister” and adding that the SNP leader was “not telling the truth”.
The Labour leader continued: “Yet more fake news from the First Minister.
“Here’s the reality – missed A&E targets, operations cancelled because of pressure on NHS staff and resources, and thousands of patients trapped in hospital when they are fit to go home.
“That should shame the First Minister, except we know that nothing really does.”
Ms Davidson had earlier challenged the First Minister over her decision to speak about what had been a private conversation.
“Everybody now knows, don’t have a private chat with this First Minister, because if it suits her purposes, everybody will get to hear about it,” the Tory leader said.
Ms Sturgeon countered by attacking Ms Davidson – who reportedly tweeted that when she had had a conversation with the First Minister after the Brexit vote, she had recorded it.
The SNP leader said: “People should think twice, of course, about having any conversation with Ruth Davidson, because if her Twitter account is anything to go by she records it for later use. Although, I notice that tweet was hastily deleted last night.”
She continued: “I stand by 100 per cent what I said.
“In fact, if anybody reads what Labour and Kezia Dugdale were saying in public around that time they will see the ring of truth about it – Labour themselves were saying that all options including an independence referendum were under consideration. That is the reality.
“That is on the record. There is an article on Labour’s website even today confirming that.
“But, of course, this comes backs to the heart of the matter, all of the other parties in this chamber want to avoid the real issue in this election.
“The real issue is this: the only way in Scotland to stop the Tories tightening their grip and getting a bigger majority to do what they want in Scotland is to vote SNP.
“Labour is not strong enough to take on the Tories any more.”
Ms Davidson said: “The last 24 hours have set out the choice people face at the polls.
“For the SNP it’s straight back to another divisive referendum on independence, with Labour it’s ‘I’m not sure, I’ll phone a friend and see what she thinks’.”