NICOLA Sturgeon yesterday accused Holyrood’s Unionist parties of running scared of an independence referendum.

In a rowdy session of First Minister’s Questions, the SNP leader said the opposition was “panicked” at the prospect of a Yes vote.

Sturgeon’s jibe came in response to a question from Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie (below) about the fifth anniversary of the 2014 independence referendum.

The United Kingdom, had, he said, in the years since 2014 lurched “from crisis to crisis”.

“We have seen the promises about protecting our place in Europe broken, we have seen the people of Scotland ignored, especially the 200,000, and counting, young voters who have never had a vote on their country’s future, and we have seen the UK Government treat devolution with utter contempt.

The National:

“Another referendum is coming – we all know that.”

To Tory, Labour and LibDem jeers, Sturgeon told MSPs that support for independence and demand for another vote was rising.

She pointed to comments from polling expert John Curtice, who, in a blog on Wednesday, said it was “becoming more difficult to sustain... the argument that Scotland does not want a second independence referendum”.

Sturgeon said she was “struck by the barracking and heckling of the Unionist parties in the chamber”.

The SNP leader added: “I suspect that the louder they get, the more obvious it is how panicked they are. The big question for them is this: if they are so confident that people in Scotland do not want independence, why are they running so scared of an independence referendum?”

In a clash with Labour leader Richard Leonard, Sturgeon told him he would never be First Minister, dismissing his “rambling, incoherent series of questions.

Leonard had challenged the SNP leader to give universities a 2% real-terms increase for teaching and research in next year’s Scottish budget.

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“Under your watch we have witnessed funding decreasing ,a system declining, all because your government is deprioritising higher education,” he said.

But the FM said Leonard had not explained how increases in new funding could be afforded. “If Richard Leonard wants a 2% increase for universities on top of the increases he calls for for local government and everything else we are responsible for, then bring forward where in the Scottish budget you think we should make the reductions,” she said.

Tory MSP Donald Cameron seemed to catch the FM off guard when he asked if she used her personal or party email for government business.

Sturgeon said: “Rightly or wrongly, most of my conduct of government business is on paper. I receive paper boxes, not email boxes, and I make handwritten notes.

“We will continue to respond to Freedom of Information requests about email correspondence on any particular issue.”

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Her official spokesman later said Sturgeon didn’t use her government email account, relying on her private office instead, and did no “substantive” government business using other email accounts.

Cameron sits on the Holyrood committee currently probing the actions of the First Minister and Scottish Government in dealing with complaints about former SNP leader Alex Salmond.

In his question, LibDem leader Willie Rennie compared Sturgeon to Boris Johnson because her government had not scrapped P1 tests even though MSPs voted for them to binned.

Sturgeon defended the tests, saying they helped the Government “determine whether our education system is delivering for the young people it serves”.