Angus Robertson warned unionist opposition that people in Scotland were becoming “increasingly accustomed” to the denial of democracy and said Scotland would become “trapped” and “stuck” inside a union that was no longer voluntary if a referendum was not granted.
The debate was turned into a debate on the state of the Scottish NHS by both Scottish Conservative and Scottish Labour members who had earlier in a doomed attempt, tried to block the debate from taking place.
They labelled the debate an “abject disgrace” and a “sorry and divisive start” to the year in Holyrood.
Opening the debate, Mr Robertson pointed at the damage of a “reckless Brexit” on Scotland’s economy and the words of party leaders during the 2021 Holyrood election when they said a vote for the SNP meant a referendum would be held.
He said: “When you start to undermine that fundamental, when you seek to deny people what they have voted for, you risk undermining democracy itself.
"Denying democracy instead is a dangerous thing, but it is a thing that people in Scotland are becoming increasingly accustomed to.”
"The parties that said, vote for me and there will be no referendum, they lost. The parties that said vote for me and we will give you the choice of independence, won.
"What is Scotland within the UK if we do not have the right to decide to leave. Trapped, stuck, however we vote. Is that the voluntary union they claim?”
Donald Cameron, the Scottish Conservative constitution spokesperson, said the new year had offered the SNP/Green government the opportunity for a “new approach”, something they had spurned.
He said: “Predictably, they have chosen the constitution as the subject of their first debate of 2023.
“We have an ongoing global cost-of-living crisis. We have a bitter and violent war in Europe. And we have total turmoil in our public services here in Scotland, with the NHS on its knees and schools closed today and tomorrow as teachers strike.
“Yet at the top of this government’s list of priorities is another independence referendum. This is nothing short of shameful.
“Not least because, as a matter of law, it is now unequivocally clear that this parliament does not have the power to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence.
Labour’s constitution spokesperson, Sarah Boyack, called the decision to hold the debate a “disappointment” and pointed at her party’s plans for constitutional reform which were outlined by a report led by Gordon Brown at the latter end of last year.
She said: “This is the wrong choice for our first debate this year. We should be focusing on the NHS.
"They opted for their number one priority which is to debate the constitution rather than tackling the health crisis and the cost of living crisis that is getting worse.
"The choice of this discussion is more about internal SNP strategic discussions than it is about the interests of the country.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton pointed at the closure of schools due to strikes and NHS pressures when he attacked the decision to hold the debate.
He said: “What a sorry and divisive start to the year this debate is. All this debate does is allow SNP and Green Ministers, to distract attention from their singular failure to get to grips with the issues that really matter in people’s day-to-day lives."