Richard Leonard has accused Nicola Sturgeon of putting her party’s interests ahead of tackling child poverty in Scotland.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, the Scottish Labour leader asked Ms Sturgeon what calling for an independence referendum by 2021 – before the implementation of an income supplement in 2022 – said about her priorities.
Mr Leonard pointed to a rise in the number of emergency food parcels handed out in Scotland over the last year and said the Scottish Government has the power to mitigate Tory welfare policies, such as the two-child cap.
“The shocking fact is that more and more children in Scotland are growing up in poverty,” said Mr Leonard.
“Of course a lot of this lies at the door of the Tory government but you’ve got the powers.
“You do have the powers to protect families from the cap and you do have the powers to fast-track an income supplement, but you choose not to use them.
“You choose instead to talk about the constitution, you choose to play to your party base, you choose to argue for a referendum that Scotland does not want.
“When it comes to a choice between protecting the poor and protecting your party, you always put your party first.”
Ms Sturgeon responded by asking Mr Leonard if he would join her in calling for control over welfare policy to be handed to the Scottish Parliament.
She said the Scottish Government would continue to do everything it could to mitigate the impact of UK Government welfare policies.
“What it says about my priorities is that I want the powers in this Parliament to tackle child poverty,” the First Minister said.
“I’m not sure what it says about Richard Leonard’s priorities that he wants to leave those powers in the hands of the Conservatives.”
Ms Sturgeon also claimed if Richard Leonard continued to “back the Tories” on the constitution, the people of Scotland would continue to “see him for what he is”.
The First Minister said: “If Richard Leonard cannot see the relationship between the constitution, the powers we have in this Parliament and Tory welfare cuts that are pushing children into poverty, then Richard Leonard doesn’t deserve ever to be in government in Scotland.”