MODERATOR Krishnan Guru-Murthy told the Scottish Labour leader he was free to sit out questions on independence as he skirted around the topic during last night’s Scottish leaders’ debate.

Anas Sarwar, Douglas Ross, Willie Rennie, Patrick Harvie and Nicola Sturgeon took part in the short 45-minute Channel 4 programme, which saw independence dominate. It was the first leaders’ debate to be aired UK-wide during the campaign.

While the pro-independence figures made the democratic case for Scotland choosing its own future, and Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross made his pro-Union stance clear, Sarwar struggled to outline a clear position.

“Krishnan, this debate proves why Scotland does face a choice. And of course it’s Scotland’s right to choose its own future, I accept that. But this exact argument shows what the choices are in this election.

“Do we really want the next parliament to be an extension of these arguments? Frankly, this circus for the next five years …”

A frustrated Guru-Murthy interrupted: “We’ll get to the other issues. But we are talking about the constitution now. If you don’t want to talk about that, it’s fine, you can sit out it out – and the rest of us can …”

The Scottish Labour leader insisted his position is not about sitting it out, but rather “choosing something different”. The debate chair decided to move onto another participant who would engage with the issue, asking Harvie about the path to indyref2 if Boris Johnson rejects a Section 30 order.

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Independence was undoubtedly the biggest issue of the night, with Harvie and Sturgeon making the case that denying indyref2 would just push more people to backing Yes.

Harvie said: “The UK simply saying ‘no you can’t, no you can’t, no you can’t’ will guarantee more and more people saying ‘yes we will’.”

The First Minister said she did not think the Prime Minister would block another referendum, adding: “You don’t have to listen too closely to the noises out of Westminster to know that the Tories have already moved on to how they block another referendum … to debates about how they rig the franchise and the timing of it.”

She added: “If Boris Johnson decides to stand in the way, Patrick is right, it will push more people towards independence, but he would have to ultimately take the Scottish Government to court to stop that, because we would seek to progress legislation for a legal referendum and if Boris Johnson accepted that, by definition that’s a legal referendum.”

The debate came after a new Panelbase poll put Holyrood on track for a large pro-independence majority of 31 MSPs after May 6.