Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross has challenged Nicola Sturgeon to a debate this month on her plans for a second independence referendum.
In a speech broadcast in response to the SNP’s recent announcement of a ‘roadmap to independence’, Mr Ross said that if the first minister is “not prepared to disown this plan she should be prepared to defend it”.
He added that this should be a “one-on-one debate” with a “mutual referee” to pose questions to the two politicians on Scotland’s constitutional future.
However, speaking during her daily Covid-19 briefing on Monday, Ms Sturgeon said her challenger was at “risk of making himself look a bit silly”, claiming she was “100% focused on leading the country through the pandemic“.
Mr Ross said: “At the moment, Nicola Sturgeon and her supporters say she’s far too busy dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“She wasn’t too busy to authorise this 11-point plan to have another independence referendum or too busy as leader of the SNP to set up a taskforce on independence so the public deserve answers.
“As the leader of the party that aims to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK, she should be willing to defend her plans and debate them with me as the leader of the main opposition party that’s in favour of remaining a strong and integral part of the UK.”
‘Too feart’ for Scottish independence debate?
The Scottish Conservatives leader said if the first minister was “too feart” to join in the proposed debate then “she needs to explain why”.
He added: “Why does she believe this plan should be rolled out now if she’s not willing to defend it in public and go under scrutiny in terms of what that would mean for Scotland and the UK?”
I think he might be in danger of making himself look a bit silly.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
Asked about Mr Ross’s challenge during her daily Covid-19 briefing on Monday, Ms Sturgeon said she “wouldn’t spend too much time on a political question”.
But added: “I’m a little bit confused that the leader of the Conservatives appears, on one hand, to not want me to talk about politics, to focus on the pandemic, which is exactly what I have been doing and will continue to do and my only focus right now is on the pandemic.
“On the other hand, he is challenging me to a debate on politics. I think he might be in danger of making himself look a bit silly.
“I’ll leave others to play games in politics. I’ve got a real job to do and people can decide themselves if I’m doing it well or not but I am absolutely 100% focused on leading this country through a pandemic.”
The Scottish Conservatives leader was quizzed on whether he would want the UK Government to challenge in court any move to hold another independence vote on the nation’s future before the end of this year.
It comes after Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said that any Scottish independence referendum without Westminster approval would be “illegal”.
Mr Ross said the UK Government should not get involved in “petty politics when the whole country should be focused on getting on top of Covid-19”.
Mr Ross said the country faces a “Covid-19 election”, adding he does not believe now is “not the right time for politics”.
When asked if he wanted to see May’s Holyrood election delayed, he said: “I want to get rid of this Scottish Government who have run Scotland for the last 14 years so I want the quickest opportunity to take that challenge to the SNP.
“But we’ve got to understand that we’re in a really difficult period with the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Mr Ross said he is confident a Downing Street review of how devolution is working, which was due to be released before the end of last year, would be published as “quickly as possible”.
It comes after we exclusively revealed last week that the review, set up by Theresa May in July 2019, has cost taxpayers more than £13,000.
Spearheaded by Tory peer Andrew Dunlop, the review reported to Number 10 in Christmas 2019 with 40 recommendations.
Asked about when the review would be published, Mr Ross said: “I’m not trying to avoid the question. I can’t flick a switch and release the Dunlop report.