Sturgeon Stands By Indy Ref Comment

Nicola Sturgeon has said she 100% stands by her claim the Scottish Labour leader told her she would drop her party's opposition to a second independence referendum in the wake of the vote for Brexit.

The First Minister has come under fire from some quarters for apparently revealing details of a private conversation she had with Kezia Dugdale in the immediate aftermath of the UK's decision to leave the European Union.

Ms Sturgeon's claims, made in a live TV leaders' debate, prompted Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson to call her a "clype''.

As the leaders clashed at First Minister's Questions at Holyrood the day before the General Election, she pressed the SNP leader on the issue, demanding to know "why she believes private conversations shouldn't stay private?''

Ms Sturgeon said she did believe that - but claimed Ms Davidson had already made the conversation public knowledge when she referred to it in a newspaper interview in February.

"That is what gave me the ability to talk about that,'' the First Minister said.

"The part, of course, in that conversation that Kezia Dugdale didn't refer to was the part I spoke about last night and stand by 100%.''

In the election debate on Tuesday, Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Labour leader had told her the vote for Brexit in June 2016 ''changed everything'' and ''Labour should stop opposing a referendum''.

But with the election taking place on Thursday, the SNP leader went on to accuse her rivals of using the issue of independence as a "smokescreen'' in the election campaign.

She said: "In the Tories' case, it's because they don't want to talk about their toxic polices.

"Toxic policies like the rape clause that made Ruth Davidson squirm so much last night, toxic polices like austerity cuts and extreme Brexit, and, of course, removing the rights of pensioners.

"So, the key question tomorrow is how we stop the Tories getting a stronger hand to do more damage to Scotland.''

Ms Dugdale said: "If the last 24 hours show us anything, it is that the First Minister will say anything to deflect from the SNP's appalling record in office.''

Ms Sturgeon replied: "I know what I said in that conversation and so does she. I am standing here in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament and I am certain about what was said.''

The Labour leader went on to attack the government's record on the NHS, highlighting that the Scottish health service faced the highest-ever number of nursing and midwifery vacancies, blaming it on the SNP leader's decision as health secretary to "slash'' places for student nurses and midwives.

Ms Dugdale was chastised by the Presiding Officer for using unparliamentary language after saying "so, there are enough nurses in the health service, that's the latest fib from the First Minister'' and adding that the SNP leader was "not telling the truth''.

The Labour leader continued: "Yet more fake news from the First Minister.

"Here's the reality - missed A&E targets, operations cancelled because of pressure on NHS staff and resources, and thousands of patients trapped in hospital when they are fit to go home.

"That should shame the First Minister, except we know that nothing really does.''

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