Douglas Ross challenges Sturgeon to head-to-head debate over "reckless" referendum plans

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Dan Sanderson
·3 min read
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Douglas Ross said Ms Sturgeon should defend her plans - WPA Pool/Getty Images Europe
Douglas Ross said Ms Sturgeon should defend her plans - WPA Pool/Getty Images Europe

The leader of the Scottish Tories has challenged Nicola Sturgeon to a head-to-head debate about SNP plans for an unauthorised independence referendum.

Douglas Ross said that the First Minister should be prepared to defend plans to legislate for and organise a new vote even if the UK Government refuses to sanction one.

Mr Ross said he suspected the move was designed to please the nationalists’ hardcore base and described the plan as “reckless and irresponsible.”

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The SNP has said that if a majority of pro-independence MSPs are elected in May, the party would ask the UK government for a temporary transfer of powers to allow a new independence referendum to take place.

However, Boris Johnson has said repeatedly that he would refuse. The SNP say that in that scenario, they would legislate for a new vote anyway.

The move would be almost certain to be challenged in the courts and lead to a constitutional crisis.

"If she believes that this referendum plan is an essential part of Scotland's economic recovery from coronavirus, then the First Minister should explain it to the Scottish people," Mr Ross said.

"The SNP are not holding back. They've taken the gloves off and they're going full-throttle for Indyref2 right now.

"So, let's not wait for the election. Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader, let's you and I debate our respective positions right now."

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic -  ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic - ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP

When Mr Ross took over as party leader in September, he insisted he wanted to fight this year’s election on devolved issues such as education and health rather than independence.

However, he has shifted strategy over recent weeks to a more traditional Tory message, which is focused on the constitution.

He said a debate on independence should be held this month, one-on-one, with an impartial referee.

Mr Ross added: “If the First Minister is too feart to get involved in this debate, she has to explain why.

"Why does she believe this plan should be rolled out right now but she is not willing to defend it in public?"

Asked about the challenge at her daily briefing, Ms Sturgeon said she was “a little bit confused” about it as the Tories have attacked her for already talking too much about independence.

She added: “My only focus is the pandemic, I think he [Mr Ross] might be in danger of making himself look a bit silly. I’ll leave others to play games of politics.”

SNP MSP George Adam claimed the Tories were "panicking" because of "plummeting" support for their party and the union.