Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has challenged the First Minister to debate SNP plans for a second vote on independence with him in a head-to-head clash this month.
He laid down the gauntlet to Nicola Sturgeon as he accused the SNP leader of putting her party before the pandemic by planning for a “reckless and irresponsible” vote on Scotland’s future in the UK.
Calling on Ms Sturgeon to debate the referendum plans with him, Mr Ross said: “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?”
He made the debate challenge in a speech in which he vowed the Conservatives would “match the SNP’s renewed threat of Indyref2 this year, with a renewed push to stop them in their tracks”.
The MP added that was why he was “challenging Nicola Surgeon to a debate this month on Scotland’s future”.
He added: “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.
“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.”
His comments come after the SNP, which Ms Sturgeon has led since 2014, published an 11-point “roadmap” to holding a second independence referendum.
While Scots voted in favour of staying in the UK in the 2014 referendum, there have now been consecutive polls showing a majority of support for independence.
The new SNP blueprint makes clear a ballot could take place if May’s Holyrood elections result in a pro-independence majority, even if Westminster refuses to grant a Section 30 order.
Mr Ross insisted having another referendum would be a “complete distraction from the challenge that we face in terms of getting on top of this virus”.
"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." pic.twitter.com/WE18prVt38
— Scottish Conservatives (@ScotTories) February 1, 2021
He also claimed the SNP are planning a “wildcat referendum” which could take place potentially before the end of this year.
His comments came as he stressed in his speech that Scots “all have a choice over whether we put another independence referendum ahead of our recovery” in May’s Holyrood election.
Urging people to vote for his party, Mr Ross said: “If Nicola Sturgeon does not take the threat off the table, then we can be the block to the SNP in the election and in doing so stop a Covid-referendum.
“Ultimately the decision over whether we choose recovery over a referendum belongs to us, it does not belong to the SNP.
“That is the message that the Scottish Conservatives will be taking to the country in this Covid-election.”
SNP MSP George Adam claimed the Tories were “panicking” because of “plummeting” support for their party and the union.
Mr Adam said: “Within his own speech Douglas Ross completely contradicts himself by saying we should focus on the pandemic, then minutes later challenges Nicola Sturgeon to a debate on independence, taking away valuable time to steer Scotland through a global pandemic.
“The Scottish Government has been and will continue to be focused on Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic and Douglas Ross should do the same instead of taking part in ridiculous sideshow debates.
“The people of Scotland will see right through another episode of Tory hypocrisy. They soon will have the right to choose who they want to lead Scotland through our recovery – flip-flopping politicians like Douglas Ross and his Westminster boss Boris Johnsonn or an independent Scotland.”