NICOLA Sturgeon had rejected claims she is "running scared" of BBC Question Time after it emerged she would not be taking part, despite the BBC programme featuring the other four main party leaders.

The First Minister has now responded to the "ridiculous" claims from her opponents that she is trying to “dodge scrutiny”, stressing the importance of "speaking directly to voters".

The SNP’s depute chief, Keith Brown, is to represent the party in Nicola Sturgeon's place while she is elsewhere answering questions from the public in a radio phone-in.

She told Clyde News: “I think even my harshest critic would know it’s ridiculous to accuse me of running away from debates.

"I’ve probably done more leaders’ debates than any other politician in the entirety of the UK over my time in politics.

"I’ve done two leaders' debates in this campaign and there’ll be more to come.”

She added: "I think it’s also important to speak directly to voters and I’m very much looking forward to the phone-in later."

The leaders of all the other Holyrood parties have agreed to take part in the BBC programme, which will feature questions from the public.

Labour will be represented by Anas Sarwar, the Tories by Douglas Ross, the Liberal Democrats by Willie Rennie and the Greens by co-leader Lorna Slater.

Opposition sources had said they had been told to expect an "all leaders show", and claimed Nicola Sturgeon had initially agreed, before later pulling out.

The Scottish Conservatives accused her of trying to “weasel” out of the show.

The show airs this evening at 10.45pm on the BBC One channel.