NICOLA Sturgeon has accused Douglas Ross of not being “a democrat” because he is “terrified” of indyref2.

The First Minister said the Scottish Tory leader was acting in “desperation” by pre-emptively branding the SNP’s plans to hold a second independence referendum in October 2023 “illegal”.

At First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Ross accused the Scottish Government of being “distracted" by independence and said the focus on constitutional matters was detracting from education, the health service and the country’s drug deaths problem.

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Ross said: “Every time the SNP campaign for another referendum, Scotland’s drug deaths spiral – the First Minister has admitted herself.

“She took her eye off the ball and people lost their lives.”

Earlier in the session, Ross said key issues had “been put on the backburner when they have set a date for an illegal referendum in just 16 months’ time”.

Sturgeon hit back at the claims saying that the Government remained committed to reducing the attainment gap and improving Scotland’s health service.

Rounding on the Tory leaders’ claims about independence, she added: “There is a real desperation at the heart of Douglas Ross’ approach to independence.

“It is very telling that he is so terrified of the substantive debate on independence, so terrified of the verdict of the Scottish people on independence, that he’s reduced to trying to pretend that, somehow, democracy in Scotland is illegal.

“It is not a question of whether this Government respects the rule of law – we do and always will.

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“The question is, is Douglas Ross a democrat? And I think that the glaring answer to that is no.”

Ross said now was a “crucial moment for public services and our economy”.

He added: “Scotland has the potential to rebuild stronger. A focus on our recovery is what the Scottish people overwhelmingly want – not a referendum.

“We need a strong government for all of Scotland but we’re getting a weak campaign group for the nationalist minority that values grievance over governance.”

Sturgeon also accused him of “bizarrely” and wrongly claiming she had not mentioned the NHS in her response to his questions about the health service.