A possible second independence referendum dominated the first of the televised leaders debates ahead of the Scottish Parliament election.

Leaders from the five main parties, represented at Holyrood, took questions form a virtual audience and set out their stall for why people should vote for them.

Questions focused on dealing with the Covid pandemic and then onto a recovery for health, education and the economy.

Glasgow Times:

But the prospect of an independence referendum was never far away form the answers, with Nicola Sturgeon in favour and the Douglas Ross of the Conservatives, Anas Sarwar of Scottish Labour and Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats opposed.

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon and leader of the SNP came under pressure over the SNP plan for a referendum in the first half of the next parliament.

She was accused of putting the constitution before Covid recovery.

In stating his ideas for a Covid recovery Conservative leader Douglas Ross said that jobs and re-skilling should be the most important priority not a “divisive referendum”.

Glasgow Times:

But it was the Tory leader who turned every question into an argument over a referendum. Nicola Sturgeon said that her focus was on the pandemic and recovery.

She said “We will continue to suppress Covid to get economy going again. As we come out of the crisis what kind of country are we trying to build”. She said if we leave decisions in the hands of Boris Johnson the wrong decisions will be taken.”

Anas Sarwar said people wanted to focus on getting cancer treatment and diagnosis back on track.

Glasgow Times:

He said he recognised Covid has put pressure on services but said “cancer remains Scotland’s biggest killer.” He also said support is needed to get economy back to pre Covid levels not “arguments about a referendum and leave or remain”.

Lorna Slater of the Scottish Greens said that the climate crisis had to be the “number one priority and emissions had to be “driven down as far as possible”.

Willie Rennie said “We need to put divisions behind us After the dreadful year we have endured, I want to spend every single day of the next parliament putting recovery first.

“That means cutting mental health waiting times, helping young people bounce back in education, creating jobs and taking action on the climate. It’s not the moment for another referendum.”

On climate change Douglas Ross turned to the constitution again. He said that UK Government plans for jobs in renewables and a transitioning economy were at risk with plans for a second independence referendum.

Sarwar said: “Let’s not have a parliament that’s against things, We can’t just have a group of Tories who only want to shout about division and not have any plans.”