NICOLA Sturgeon has picked apart a claim from a Labour MSP that Scotland should not be using public money to plan for indyref2 at a time when emergency services across the country are in “meltdown”.

The First Minister was responding to a question from Scottish Labour’s Alex Rowley, one of only two of the party’s MSPs not to sit on its shadow frontbench.

Rowley had dismissed arguments about “the impact of failed Tory austerity” and Covid before saying: “The one thing that is absolutely clear is that much of our public services across Scotland are in meltdown.”

He went on: “Therefore, how can the First Minister possibly justify using government resources, taxpayers’ money, on working up proposals for an independence referendum at a time when surely the whole of the Scottish Government, the whole of this parliament, should be focused on addressing the emergency that we have in our public services?”

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Rowley’s attack line is the same as that recently used by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, who claimed that by preparing for indyref2 the SNP had its “priorities wrong”.

In response, the First Minister issued a withering attack on the Tory government in London and those who would stand in the way of Scots’ right to choose a different future.

She said: “I don’t think we can argue about the impact of UK Government austerity on services the length and breadth of Scotland. It has been utterly devastating.

"And the problem is that unless we do something about it, to get ourselves out of the grip of Tory government after Tory government, people across Scotland are going to suffer more.

“Just this week we’ve seen a National Insurance increase that will punish the lowest paid in our society…”

At this point grumbles could be heard, presumably from the Tory benches where arguments have focused on the extra money the “regressive” National Insurance hike will raise, rather than the impact of the rise on society’s least well off.

Responding to that, Sturgeon went on: “We all want to see extra money for public services, but raising that money in a way that punishes the poor is the bit that frankly we don’t agree with and nobody should agree with if they care about these issues.

“We’re also about to see from this UK Government the biggest overnight cut to social security since the 1930s as they take away the £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit.

“This may be something that Alex Rowley and I disagree on and he can explain it to his constituents but I do think it’s right that people in Scotland get the opportunity to choose a different future, to choose a better future where we take control over social security and how we raise our funds into this parliament, so we don’t have to stand here and, to use his phrase, argue about the impact of another government on people the length and breadth of Scotland.”