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SNP and Tory deputies go head-to-head in Indyref2 debate

Keith Brown and Jackson Carlaw discuss the Referendums Bill on Scotland Tonight.

The Scottish Tory deputy leader has accused Nicola Sturgeon's government of "indulging in fantasy" and neglecting domestic policies in favour of pursuing independence.

Jackson Carlaw went head-to-head with the SNP deputy leader on yesterday's Scotland Tonight programme to discuss the Referendums (Scotland) Bill.

Keith Brown asked Carlaw to engage on a public debate on Indyref2. "If you have the confidence in your own arguments will you accept my challenge to have a public debate on the issue," he said.

Carlaw responded: "I'm more than happy to take him on and murder him on the issue."

Here is a transcript of the debate:

John MacKay: Keith Brown, what are you hoping to achieve by publishing this legislation?

Keith Brown: It will pave the way for the ability for the Scottish parliament to hold referenda. But of course much of the focus is on the idea of an independence referendum. I'm delighted this is coming forward because I believe an independence referendum will be essential in order that we can escape this broken Brexit Britain that we're inhabiting just now, where even when people last week vote in the vast majority to remain part of the EU, the prospect is we can be taken out of the EU.

John: And what's your reaction to the publication, Jackson?

Jackson Carlaw: In the very last speech of the very last debate before the 2014 referendum, Nicola Sturgeon said to the Scottish parliament this was our once in a lifetime opportunity to decide Scotland's future. And yet here we are again, the SNP really promising another decade of constitutional turmoil. I think people in Scotland have had enough of it. I don't think they will welcome today's publication at all. I think they made their mind up about this issue back in 2014 and they do not want and there is no evidence that the majority of Scotland want to go through it all again.

John: To the point that Keith Brown made though, is Brexit not a material change in circumstance?

Jackson: Only a third of people voted last week in the European election. But as Professor Sir John Curtice said when analysing the figures, what they showed is that there are still a majority of Scots who would prefer to remain, and in the way that the breakdown of support for the parties fell, there are still a majority of Scots who want remain in the United Kingdom. So nothing has actually changed. I think one of the disturbing things about the legislation today is that, whereas at Westminster or in fact any previous referendum we've had it's been an individual bill that has progressed through that parliament, what the Scottish government is proposing today is a blanket power for ministers in future on their own whim to decide that there would be a referendum and to decide all the terms and conditions of it. That actually is diktat, it's not democracy.

John: Diktat, not democracy, Keith Brown?

Keith: Absolute nonsense. What we're seeing from Jackson as we've seen from the Conservatives is this complete contempt that they have for the people of Scotland. In Jackson's constituency and in mine, nearly two thirds of people voted for remain and once again we have a Tory MSP ignoring the expressed wishes of the people of Scotland, expressed at these European elections, expressed in the referendum that was held in 2016. Incidentally many Tory MPs are also calling for a new referendum on that. The simple fact is this is about referenda. It's not a diktat because in relation to the independence referendum, of course that would be agreed. I would agree with Ruth Davidson, who said if there's a majority of people, SNP and Greens, in the Scottish parliament, then we should have an independence referendum because that's democracy. And I also agree with her when she says not to grant this is not a good look for the Tory party or Westminster, and eventually they will flip flop and they'll fold and we will have our referendum.

John: What about Jackson Carlaw's point that there's no evidence of any demand for this?

Keith: We have made it very clear, the circumstances in which we'd hold this. Polls are showing 52% would support an independent Scotland rather than a hard Brexit Britain. So there is support for independence. We've seen huge marches across Scotland. We've seen that the parties in the Scottish parliament vote through the circumstances, the support for a referendum. That's the express wish of the people of Scotland and their parliament. The Tories really have to start to listen to what people in Scotland are saying.

Jackson: We had huge marches, even larger ones in the 2014 referendum, but they didn't in the end turn out to be representative of public opinion. Nicola Sturgeon said of that referendum that the way in which it was conducted was the gold standard. And let's remember then that every party in the Scottish parliament supported the request for a section 30 for that referendum to take place. Only two of the five parties in the Scottish parliament now are interested in it. And there is no evidence that the people of Scotland are looking to have another referendum. What they're looking for is for this government to actually address what is becoming increasingly a record of failure on health, on education, on our economy. We've had enough of constitutional politics. And actually I don't believe the government in Scotland thinks this is even going to happen. Nicola Sturgeon I think and many of her team are really indulging in a fantasy. It's already been made clear that this side of a 2021 Scottish election, there is no question of Westminster granting the section 30. So we're going to spend our time now in the Scottish parliament progressing legislation on an independence referendum that will not take place, rather than spending that time on education, which after all, Nicola Sturgeon said was her number one priority when she was elected in 2016.

John: You do need that section 30. Sajid Javid among others today has said that he wouldn't allow a second independence referendum. How are you going to persuade him otherwise?

Keith: Yes, and just listen to that language, "we will not allow Scotland to have a referendum". I've predicted and I stand by the fact they will fold on this. Andy Maciver, a Tory spin doctor, has said the same thing. This is not sustainable from the Tories, this contempt they have for the people of Scotland. But on the issue of business going through the parliament, there is nothing going through the Westminster parliament just now. We have any number of bills coming through the Scottish parliament, we regularly debate and discuss and decide on issues across the board. We have lower crime rates in Scotland, we have higher employment in Scotland. We have a far better record on public infrastructure works than the rest of the UK. So we are getting on with the business but that doesn't mean to say that we should ignore the needs of Scotland's future and the express wishes of the Scottish people.

John: Jackson Carlaw, the more the UK government says no to this independence referendum, Sajid Javid using language like he won't allow it, will that not get a momentum behind it? People saying he can't say that?

Jackson: All Sajid Javid did was retweet from Ruth Davidson the fact that there is no support for an independence referendum.

Keith: No, he said he won't allow it.

Jackson: He said if he were prime minister and was asked to grant a section 30 order, he would say no. And I think that is actually the view of the majority of people in Scotland. There isn't a demand for independence, now is not the time for that. This government that Keith is a member of was elected in 2016...

Keith: I'm not a member of the government...

Jackson: ...saying its number one priority would be an education bill. It's never happened. And Nicola Sturgeon, for all the statements she's made on independence which she does on television and in the chamber almost weekly, has never once made a statement on education, the number one priority she set for this parliament but certainly not in practice, a priority for the government in Scotland.

John: Keith Brown, is this a tactic to appease more impatient supporters? Do you think there will be an independence referendum next year?

Keith: If that's what Jackson Carlaw and the Tories believe, the simple response is for him to say right now, which they'd be well advised to do, we accept and a section 30 order goes ahead. Let's see if they really have the guts and the conviction of their arguments.

John: But do you think it will happen next year?

Keith: The first minister has said that's her preference, to have it at the end of next year.

John: Do you think it will happen then?

Keith: Well, that's what she's said. We have to see how the legislation goes through the parliament. But on the point that Jackson's making, he's talked about the other aspects of the government. I asked Jackson Carlaw to debate this issue two months ago and he ran away from it. I challenge again tonight. If you have the confidence in your own arguments, will you accept my challenge to have a public debate on this issue?

Jackson: As one deputy to another, I was of course the leader of the party when Keith was challenging me before, but as one deputy to another, I'm more than happy to take him on and murder him on the issue.

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