Kezia Dugdale has accused Nicola sturgeon of “dragging politics into the gutter” with her claim that the Scottish Labour leader backed a second independence referendum in a private conversation.
The First Minister made the bombshell claim during Tuesday night’s televised leaders’ debate, telling Ms Dugdale: “You and I spoke the day after the EU referendum and you told me then that you thought the change with Brexit meant that Labour should stop opposing a referendum.”
The Scottish Labour leader called the claim a “categoric lie” and accused the SNP leader of “driving voters towards the Conservatives” on the eve of the general election.
The call is understood to have taken place following a press conference by the First Minister on 24 June, after she said a second referendum was “highly likely”.
Labour sources said they did not know whether a Scottish Government civil servant was involved in the call to Ms Dugdale’s mobile phone, although the Labour leader at one point described it as a “conference call”.
She said no notes or recordings were made by Labour, and that it was not known if the First Minister had any evidence to back up her claim.
Ms Sturgeon is believed to have called the Scottish Conservative leader during the night as well.
This morning Ruth Davidson called the First Minister a “clype” for revealing details of her conversation with Ms Dugdale.
Speaking to journalists at an event in Edinburgh to launch the final day of the campaign, the Scottish Labour leader denounced the move as “dirty, gutter politics”.
Ms Dugdale said: “Any suggestion that we had a conversation about an independence referendum is a categoric lie.
“We did talk about our shared distress and upset at the EU referendum, and I said to her at the time that the Scottish Labour would support efforts to maintain Scotland’s close relationship with Europe.”
She added: “We didn’t talk about independence or an independence referendum, I’m categoric about that.
“Bluntly I was so stunned by the accusation that I couldn’t quite believe what she’d said.”
Ms Dugdale went on: “This does demean her office. This is gutter politics at its very worst, and you’ve got to question her motivations for it.
“Why in the final hours of an election campaign is she seeking to attack me personally and drag people towards the Tories?
“Is it because she wants to keep Theresa May exactly where she is, because that helps further the case for independence?”
The Scottish Labour leader said: “It would be damaging if it were true, but it’s not.”
Ms Dugdale also rejected suggestions that Jeremy Corbyn had snubbed the party’s only Scottish MP, Ian Murray, by not making a single visit to his Edinburgh South constituency during the campaign.
Labour’s UK leader started the final day of campaigning at a rally in Glasgow, where Labour are not thought to be competitive in any seat.