IT may have taken almost 40 minutes for the subject of independence to arise in the last Scottish leaders’ debate before the Holyrood election, but the surprise last night was it was not raised by Douglas Ross.

BBC Scotland’s political editor, Glenn Campbell – who had warned the politicians not to talk over each other – broached the subject asking Ross about his claim that an SNP majority was a “guarantee” of another referendum.

“Because Nicola Sturgeon has been clear that she gets a majority she’ll take her eye off the ball for Scotland’s recovery, for rebuilding this country from this pandemic and seek to hold another independence referendum,” Ross replied, adding that she would hold an “illegal, wildcat” referendum if Boris Johnson refused a Section 30 order.

The First Minister hit back: “No we won’t. I’ve always said that Douglas.

“I know Douglas that your campaign has perhaps not been the most successful campaign, but don’t start to issue smears and just tell untruths about my position and what I’ve said.

“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.

READ MORE: Who do you think won the final Holyrood Leaders' Debate?

“I’m asking people to, on Thursday, re-elect me as First Minister, and if people on Thursday re-elect me as First Minister, then I’m going to be back at work behind my desk in St Andrew’s House on Monday, taking the decisions to steer this country through the pandemic – that is my priority.

“And then, when we are out of the crisis, yes, saying to people in Scotland, it should be, all the people in Scotland, that decide whether or not Scotland becomes an independent country.

“That’s not a decision for me it’s not a decision for Douglas or any of the other politicians here.”

Labour leader Anas Sarwar said Ross was only interested in “saving his skin, not saving the Union”, and he wanted people to choose something different from arguments on the constitution, to allow the next Parliament to “focus on a national recovery”.

That was also the aim of Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie, who said: “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.”

However, Scottish Greens leader Patrick Harvie said independence gave Scots the opportunity to shape the country’s recovery from the pandemic. “I don’t think we can afford to pass up the opportunity to shape our own recovery,” he said.

“This is a moment of incredible opportunity to decide what kind of country is going to emerge from Covid.”

The question about what currency an independent Scotland would use was bound to come up and Sturgeon said the country would look to use sterling initially, before setting up a new Scottish currency when conditions were “right”. She said when that would depend on circumstances and was not “absolutely fixed”, but emphasised that tomorrow’s election was about choosing a government.

“We’re not voting yes or no to independence, Sturgeon said. “I want, once the crisis has passed and we are into recovery, for us to be able to choose our own future.

“At that point, just as happened in 2014 ... we will put forward a case for independence. And people will have the right to choose.”

Rennie said: “People will just be bemused that in the wake of one of most deepest pandemics this country has ever faced we are debating independence.”

The debate had started with a discussion about the easing of coronavirus restrictions on international travel and it was perhaps fitting that it also ended with a reflection on the Covid crisis.

READ MORE: Douglas Ross wins prize for irony with call for honesty at Leaders' Debate

Asked by Campbell what they were most looking forward to doing, when restrictions were eased, Sturgeon replied: “Hugging my mum, my dad and my wee sister and my family. That’s what I want to do more than anything and I can’t wait to do it.”

Rennie said: “I think I agree, I want to sit down with my parents, they’re in their 80s now, have an evening meal with my sisters, and the grandkids and just have good fun.”

“Like the others I’m going to see family,” said Sarwar. “I’ve not hugged my granny for over a year. I’ve not seen my dad for well over a year.”

Harvie wanted to go to a beer festival, adding: “But if I know my mum and dad well enough, they would be coming along with me.”

Hugging his parents was also top of Ross’s list: “They just live a couple of miles from where we stay and they’ve been helping out looking after our wee boy … but they’ve not been able to have that hug to thank them for everything they’ve done to help us.”