NICOLA Sturgeon has sought to make the row over Boris Johnson and sleaze her clinching argument in the Holyrood election, urging voters to show the Tories "they are not untouchable".

On a Channel 4 News leaders' debate from Glasgow, the First Minister said people in the devolved and local elections in the rest of the UK should cast an anti-Tory vote for the same reason.

In a bad-tempered and often chaotic event, Ms Sturgeon was also forced to deny she was being “dishonest” on independence, and Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross recanted over his previous opposition to same-sex marriage.

Mr Ross was also forced to admit, reluctantly, that the UK was a "voluntary" Union, but refused to say how Scotland might leave it.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar told Ms Sturgeon that she needed to be reminded that the country was still in a pandemic as she and Mr Ross traded blows on the constitution.

While Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie exclaimed "You're kidding me!" when the First Minister claimed her government was closing the poverty related attainment gap in schools. 

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie struggled to get a word in.

It followed a day in which the Prime Minister’s character was again under the spotlight, as Downing Street refused to deny he had said he would rather let Covid "rip" than order a third lockdown.

On ITV Border, Mr Ross refused three times to say if he thought the PM had integrity and honour.

Later, in the debate, Mr Ross said he accepted Mr Johnson's denial that he had said he was ready to let bodies pile high in their thousands to avoid another national lockdown.

He said: "Those comments are unacceptable from anyone, whatever level of elected office or any individual at all and I would never support those comments, but the Prime Minister has said he did not make them.”

Ms Sturgeon said she was “staggered” at Mr Ross's “hypocrisy”, given his party attempted to oust her over her government’s handling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond before she had given evidence to a Holyrood inquiry.

She said: "There is a stench of sleaze around this UK Tory government. They’re acting as if the rules only apply to other people and that they and their wealthy friends can act with impunity, make and spend money however they want, and somehow they're untouchable. 

“I think the message for people across Scotland, and indeed in the rest of the UK where there are elections next week, is show them they're not untouchable, that actually the rules apply to them as well.”

Competing claims of sleaze were “grotesque” when people are struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Rennie said.

Mr Harvie said support for the UK Government was at “rock bottom” in Scotland, adding: "The election is about giving people in Scotland the option to choose between two possible paths for our country, one as a small independent country trying to get back into Europe, or the other is a part of Boris Johnson’s Brexit Britain.”

Ms Sturgeon was also challenged over seeking a mandate forIndyref2 without offering any economic impact analysis on independence.

Asked if it was a "dishonest way of going about it", she said: "No it's not, because a year ago, when the pandemic struck, I said openly that I was putting all planning for an independence referendum on hold, to allow me to focus on the pandemic."

She added she was "not planning a referendum immediately" and would put forward a full prospectus "when we're asking people to choose", as happened in 2014.

Mr Ross was confronted by presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy over his opposition to the legalising of same-sex marriage in 2014, when he was a Tory councillor in Moray.

Mr Ross said: “I said at the time I would have voted against it, just like two [SNP] government ministers voted against it. 

“I have also said that I fully support it. I think marriage is a thing of beauty both for men and women and people of same sex and it’s something we should support.” 

Mr Sarwar quipped it showed “they’ve gone back to the same old Tories”. 

He added: “The cuddly Tories under Ruth Davidson are well and truly gone. 

“There’s a reason why Ruth Davidson has walked away – because we’ve got Boris, we’ve got Brexit, we’ve got chaos, we’ve got division.  

“Not only is Douglas talking about same sex marriage, he’s already had to apologise for hateful views against other minority communities in Scotland. 

“We’re back to the same old Tories and frankly we deserve better.”