ANAS Sarwar has said it is “for Scottish people to decide what the future of our country is” – yet refused to be drawn on whether he would support Scotland having the powers to hold a second independence referendum.

During the BBC Debate Night election special, which saw the leaders of five Scottish parties face-off, an audience member asked whether the probable victory of Labour in the General Election means the question of independence is “off the table for the foreseeable future”.

Sarwar quickly said that “it’s for the Scottish people to decide what the future of our country is”.

The response was evidently a surprise to Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater who interrupted to ask whether the Labour Party would allow another referendum.

Her question was ignored by Sarwar who continued: “This election is not about independence it’s about getting rid of this rotten Tory government that’s done so much damage over the past 14 years.

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“But let me say directly to those people in the room that do support independence or have supported independence in the past.

“I’m being really upfront and open and honest.

"I don’t support independence, I don’t support a referendum, but I can understand why so many people across Scotland were looking for an escape route from a Tory government they thought we couldn’t get rid of or from a Labour Party they thought couldn’t win.

“That’s why over the past three years I’ve worked really hard to give you a Labour Party worthy of the name”.

Both Slater and John Swinney called out the inconsistency of Sarwar’s stance on independence, asking how he could support Scottish people deciding the future of the country while denying their right to vote in a second independence referendum.

(Image: Jane Barlow)

“Anas, I don’t think your party is going to be able to maintain its focus on unionism," said Slater. 

“Because many people in this election might be considering voting for you who do support independence.

“And the question is – you said it yourself – it’s for the people of Scotland to decide.

“So, will you respect our democratic mandate and allow us a referendum on independence?”

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Sarwar would not be drawn on whether he would back a second referendum despite his previous claim.

Later, Swinney added: “I am about to say something I didn’t think I was going to say tonight – I actually agree with something Anas Sarwar has said.

“Anas said it’s for the people of Scotland to decide the future of Scotland and that’s exactly how it should be.

“The people of this country have a democratic right to decide if they wish to be independent”.