Nicola Sturgeon has told Scots that a second independence referendum is an issue of “principle, conviction and belief”, as she came under fire from rival party leaders in the final TV clash before Thursday’s Holyrood election.
The First Minister was branded “anti-democratic” by pro-Union party leaders after saying she expects a second vote while in office, despite the referendum two years ago seeing Scots vote to stay in the UK.
The SNP leader was urged to take it “off the table” in heated exchanges.
The clashes also saw Tory leader Ruth Davidson come under fire for telling “porkies” to Scots over Tory government delays to vital navy shipbuilding work on the Clyde, amid claims that this could result in hundreds of job losses.
The BBC showdown between the First Minister, Ms Davidson, Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, Liberal Democratic chief Willie Rennie and Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Green Party, was staged at Hopetoun House in South Queensferry, West Lothian. The prospect of another vote on the constitution was sparked after Ms Sturgeon said she expects a second referendum to be held while she is First Minister.
She has warned already that a quickfire vote on the constitution may be held if the UK votes to leave the EU in June, but Scotland opts to stay. Ms Sturgeon said in a weekend interview that the prospect of a second independence vote during her time in office was now “more likely than not”.
Ms Sturgeon said last night: “If people do change their minds and there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preference of the majority of the people of Scotland then no politician has the right to stand in the way of the democratic wishes of the Scottish people.”
She added: “I believe in something. I have convictions, I have principles. I will continue to try to persuade people of them. Whether I succeed or not will be down to the strength of the arguments I put forward and ultimately down to the wishes of the Scottish people.”
But Mr Rennie said the perennial referendum debates were like “Groundhog Day”.
He added: “As soon as it’s over and they don’t get the result they want to do it all over again. Do they not get the message, they [Scots] want to stay in the UK. Respect the result. I’d even go as far as saying they’re anti-democratic.”
Ms Davidson insisted that the First Minister had previously said the referendum was a “once in a generation” event. She added: “It’s not up to her to say they she sees one opinion poll she likes and say ‘We’re putting the country through it all once more.’ It’s not on.”
Ms Sturgeon has already announced a summer initiative targeting those who voted No in 2014, when Scots backed remaining part of the UK by 55 per cent to 45 per cent. One poll yesterday suggested support for independence now stood at 47 per cent.
The Tory leader also came under fire on shipbuilding jobs. Unions warned last week that work on a vital contract to build the new generation of eight Type 26 frigates at BAE on Scotstoun on the Clyde had been delayed by 18 months until December next year. The prospect of keeping shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde was at the centre of the campaign for Scotland to stay in the UK in 2014.
Ms Sturgeon accused the Tory government of a “betrayal” over the jobs.
She said workers on the Clyde were worried about the delay to the contract promised them, adding: “The first thing that should be done is that promise should be upheld.”
But Ms Davidson insisted she had held talks with Defence Secretary Michael Fallon who assured her the work was going ahead.