Nicola Sturgeon has dismissed accusations she will seek to hold an “illegal, wildcat referendum” in the event Boris Johnson blocks a second independence poll.
The first minister said she would “not countenance an illegal referendum” in the next Scottish Parliament, even if Westminster declined to grant a section 30 order.
The comments appeared to contradict earlier remarks from the first minister, who told broadcasters that Mr Johnson would “would have to take legal action” to stop her indyref2 plans.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross insisted an “illegal, wildcat referendum” was on the cards, but Ms Sturgeon said the comments amounted to “smears” and “untruths”.
She added: “I’ve said consistently all along, sometimes to criticism from people in my own side of the argument, I would not countenance an illegal referendum – not least because it would not deliver independence and I want Scotland, in the fullness of time and due course, to become an independent country.”
Anas Sarwar, meanwhile, claimed his Scottish Tory rival was “only interested in saving his skin, not saving the Union”.
The Scottish Labour leader said he wanted people to “choose something different” from the arguments on the constitution, so the next Parliament can “focus on a national recovery”.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie also said he wanted to focus on recovery, adding: “The people who are waiting an age for mental health treatment, I think, deserve better than this, the people who are desperate for a job deserve better than this.”
Future of care in Scotland
Early on in the debate there was consensus over Covid-19 and the caution needed over allowing international travel, but leaders clashed over the future of care in Scotland.
Ms Sturgeon, along with Mr Sarwar, supported the idea of a national care service going forward.
The first minister said Scotland should be “bold about the legacy we want for future generations” as she backed the ambition of a national care service.
Mr Ross, however, said the idea “demeans and undermines” the contribution of private care providers during the pandemic.
All the leaders were later in agreement that a new royal yacht should not be paid for by public money.
Reports in recent days have suggested the vessel could cost as much as £200 million, but Ms Sturgeon has said it would be no more than a distraction.
“The only reason Boris Johnson has been talking about this is to distract attention from the sleaze that is swirling around him and his government – everyone should see through it,” she said.
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie described the idea as an “absurdity”, while Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “I could think of, probably, 500 other things I would rather spend that money on.”
Mr Sarwar described the move as a “cheap stunt”, but Mr Ross said he believed the vessel would be paid for by private investment, adding public money should “absolutely not” be used to fund the project.