IF Richard Leonard “continues to back the Tories” on indyref2 then he doesn’t “deserve ever to be in government in Scotland,” Nicola Sturgeon warned yesterday.

The First Minister’s comment came after the Labour leader accused her of putting party before poverty, and failing to take immediate action to help the country’s poorest children.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions yesterday, Leonard said Sturgeon was salivating over the prospect of a new independence vote despite more and more children in Scotland relying on food banks.

“The Scottish Government has said that it plans not to introduce an income supplement to help the poorest families in Scotland until 2022, but wants another independence referendum before 2021.

“What does that say about the First Minister’s priorities?” he asked.

Sturgeon told the Labour leader that Scots would be at the mercy of Tory welfare cuts until Holyrood had more power.

“What that says about my priorities is that I want this Parliament to have the powers to tackle child poverty. I am not sure what his wanting to leave those powers in the hands of the Conservatives says about Richard Leonard’s priorities.”

Leonard told Sturgeon that she already had the powers to “protect families from the two-child cap and she has the powers to fast-track an income supplement, but she chooses not to use them.”

“She chooses instead to talk about the constitution: she chooses to play to her party base and she chooses to argue for a referendum that Scotland does not want.

“In fact, since she became First Minister, she has pledged twice to call another independence referendum.

“In that time, at least three quarters of a million food parcels have been handed out to families in Scotland.

“Is not it the case that, when it comes to a choice between protecting the poor and protecting her party, the First Minister always puts her party first?”

A furious Sturgeon said that if Leonard could not “see the relationship between the constitution—the powers that we have in this Parliament—and Tory welfare cuts that are pushing children into poverty, then Richard Leonard does not deserve, ever, to be in government in Scotland.”

She added: “We will continue to do everything that we can to mitigate the impact of those policies. We will bring forward policies of our own to lift children out of poverty. However, unlike Richard Leonard and the Labour Party, we will argue for those powers to lie in this Parliament, and not in the hands of the Tories.

“As long as Richard Leonard continues to back the Tories on the constitution, the people of Scotland will see him for exactly what he is.”

Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie used his question to welcome the First Minister’s indyref2 announcement on Wednesday, before warning that independence would only win if the SNP ditched Andrew Wilson’s economic plan.

His comment came ahead of what looks set to be a fierce debate on the SNP’s currency plan tomorrow during the party’s spring conference.

“Without independence, we have one hand tied behind our back; under the Growth Commission, we would have the other hand tied behind our back instead, gaining political independence but without the real economic control that we need,” Harvie said.

“People who were open to the idea but not convinced in 2014 are far more likely to back independence if it is based on a positive, bold vision for Scotland’s future.”

Sturgeon did not agree with Harvie, and said the Growth Commission was “positive” and “bold” and would “create a strong economy” to help “build a fairer, more just society.”

“That is the positive, bold vision that I look forward to campaigning on the next time,” she added.