The SNP has been accused of making an “unprecedented and unacceptable” bid to shield Scotland’s new first minister from having to face questions at Holyrood just days after being elected.
The Tories accused the SNP of seeking to have First Minister’s Questions (FMQs) next Thursday cancelled – adding that the bid was dropped after “vehement opposition” from Conservative chief whip Alexander Burnett and others.
The Tory accused the SNP of making a “shameful attempt to hide the new first minister from scrutiny”.
Burnett insisted the move was a “new low even for a party as obsessed as the SNP are with secrecy and spin”.
He hit out after the regular meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Business Bureau, which determines the day-to-day business at Holyrood.
If First Minister Questions had been cancelled next week, the new first minister would have not had to take part in the weekly clash until April 20, after the Easter recess.
Three candidates are in the running to take over from Nicola Sturgeon: with Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf; finance secretary Kate Forbes; and former community safety minister Ash Regan all vying for the top job.
SNP members are being balloted to elect the party’s new leader, with the winner due to be announced on Monday March 27.
With the SNP the largest party at Holyrood, the new leader is then expected to be formally voted in by MSPs as the new first minister the following day, and will face their first First Minister’s Questions on Thursday.
Burnett, however, said the SNP had sought to cancel this session, describing it as an “outrageous affront to democracy that Nationalist business managers even attempted this stunt”.
The Conservative MSP continued: “This was totally unprecedented and unacceptable – every new first minister or prime minister has faced parliamentary scrutiny whenever their first FMQs or PMQs has happened to fall.
“Nicola Sturgeon did her first FMQs on November 20, 2014 – the day after becoming First Minister.
“But this cowardly move tells you everything about the current state of the SNP.”
He claimed the leadership election had showed the SNP to be “in the grip of a civil war”, adding that the rival candidates have been “kicking lumps out of each other, trashing Nicola Sturgeon’s record and questioning the integrity of the election itself, while the SNP’s chief executive and top spin doctor have resigned for lying to the media and party members”.
Burnett added: “The new first minister may not want to face the music over this carnage at FMQs but it’s part of the job – and the SNP have been forced to accept he or she can’t be hidden away.”
An SNP spokesperson said: “We’ll take no lectures from a Tory party which not so long ago illegally shut down the Commons to dodge scrutiny.
“Whoever becomes First Minister will be more than happy to face questions at Holyrood every week.”
A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “The Parliament does not comment on Bureau discussions.”