Scotland’s leading political party leaders have clashed in a televised debate live on STV.
Patrick Harvie (co-leader of the Scottish Green Party), Willie Rennie (Scottish Liberal Democrats), Douglas Ross (Scottish Conservatives), Anas Sarwar (Scottish Labour) and Nicola Sturgeon (Scottish National Party) were pressed by STV political editor Colin Mackay on the big issues facing the country.
They put forward their visions for recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, as well as their stance on the economy, the NHS, education, climate change and the prospects of a second independence referendum.
Here are some of the key exchanges from Tuesday evening’s debate across a range of issues:
Sarwar said Scotland’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t start or end with the lifting of lockdown or with the virus going away. He said: “It is going to take years for us to get back to pre-Covid levels – never mind better than it was pre-Covid.
He added that what people across the country are most worried about is keeping loved ones safe, getting access to the vaccine, their childrens’ mental health, jobs and cancelled operations – and not the date of a referendum.
Harvie said the country is going to face huge economic challenges and that’s why Scotland needs the economic powers to face those challenges – challenging the notion that even debating independence has to be “some sort of terribly hostile process”.
Sturgeon said it was really important that people judge us on “what we do about Covid and not what we say”.
She said: “When the Covid pandemic struck just over a year ago, the first thing I did was put all planning for an independence referendum on pause, so that as First Minister I could focus 100% on steering the country through the crisis, and that’s what I will continue to focus on for as long as necessary.”
She also accused the Conservatives of being reckless through the pandemic with their approach to Brexit by “tearing Scotland out of a transition period against our will”.
Ross said Scots were facing the choice of two futures – either by coming together and getting the focus 100% on recovering from Covid, or the SNP getting a majority and “demand another divisive independence referendum and put Scotland’s recovery at risk”.
Ross said issues such as tackling drug deaths, improving mental health care and increasing the number of police officers should take priority over a second independence referendum.
He said: “We can recover from Covid using the strong foundations of the United Kingdom, we can tackle the looming economic crisis.
“But we won’t manage any of that if the SNP get a majority and hold another divisive referendum.”
Rennie also disagreed that there should be another referendum in the next five years.
“We’re still in the wake of the most deadly pandemic,” he said. Over 10,000 people have lost their life, thousands more have lost their job, this is not the moment for another referendum.”
But Sturgeon said Scotland’s future was at stake, saying this election will ultimately determine who decides that future – those who live in Scotland or Westminster politicians.
She said: “By giving both votes to the SNP you will secure leadership through Covid, a plan for recovery and when the crisis is over the choice of a better future with independence.”
Rennie claimed Brexit was an example as to why breaking from the UK was not a good idea.
He added: “These were dangerous issues, they needed to be handled with care.
“That’s why we want to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes with independence.”
The Scottish Lib Dem leader said the focus should be on convincing people of the merits of being in the EU.
Nicola Sturgeon said the SNP “took its eye off the ball” over drugs deaths, adding that she had set a £250m investment programme to build up rehabilitation services.
Ross said drug deaths in Scotland had doubled during her time as First Minister.
Sturgeon said: “I take the view when politicians get things wrong, and we all get things wrong, it’s really important to face up to that, it’s important to recognise that and it’s important to set out what we do to fix that – that’s what I’ve done on drugs deaths, I’ve appointed a minister to lead forward that work and we are determined to turn that around.”
Sarwar questioned Sturgeon over problems at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow – which was commissioned when the SNP leader was still health secretary.
The Labour leader said the flagship building had been allowed to open despite a report saying “the water supply was not safe and at high risk of infection”.
He said this resulted in 40 infections in child cancer patients, and two deaths.
Sturgeon insisted: “It is not the case that reports that I personally saw that said the hospital was unsafe were ignored. That is simply not the case.”
She said “we don’t know all of the answers”, saying a public inquiry has been set up to provide “full scrutiny”.
Sarwar said: “If that was me, I would want to hunt down the answers.”
Sarwar has said there is a “generational shift” when it comes to transitioning away from fossil fuels as he was asked whether his party was “too close” to the industry.
Harvie praised the Scottish Labour leader for his party’s latest commitment to environmental issues.
He added: “Is your party just too close to the fossil fuel industry to be taken seriously?”
Sarwar said: “We have got to make sure it’s a truly just transition that doesn’t decimate jobs.”
Harvie said the Scottish Greens have the solutions to the climate crisis and the vision for a fairer, greener, independent Scotland in Europe.
Harvie said the Scottish Qualifications Authority “punished” 75,000 mostly working-class young people, lowering their school grades for no reason other than their postcode.
He questioned Sturgeon about the situation facing school pupils this year.
He said: “This year, exams have been cancelled again and you said there is no requirement for pupils to sit an exam or prelim this year, but the SQA’s (Scottish Qualification Authority) own explanation to students says ‘the look and feel of these assessments may seem like an exam’; it really does and for young people who have just got back into the classroom it really does feel like an exam.”
He asked the SNP leader if she was letting the SQA preside over “another exams fiasco”.
Sturgeon replied by saying an alternative way of certifying young people’s achievements needed to be found because exams can’t take place again this year due to Covid.
She said: “We’ve put teacher judgment at the heart of that; the SQA have rightly issued guidance, there are lots and lots of different subjects and how that will be done in one subject is different to how it will be done in some other subjects.”
Rennie said it was important to persuade whoever is Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to implement a universal basic income – giving the Scottish Parliament powers over taxation and social security.
He said: “Whoever is there over time, we persuade them of the merits of that because I think there was an ideal opportunity at the start of the pandemic to do exactly this, which is why we made the positive case for that happening because we think a universal basic income would be a good thing for the country.”
The Lib Dem leader said his party is running a positive campaign on jobs and climate.
Meanwhile, Sturgeon pressed the Scottish Tory leader on the impact of Brexit on Scotland’s fishing industry.
Ross accepted: “We haven’t done enough for the fishing industry, we need to do far more.”
He said he would “stand up for Scottish fishermen” but the SNP leader asked him: “Isn’t it the case that whatever the UK Government says, you just do it?
“First ministers need to stand up for Scotland, Douglas, not take orders from Westminster.”
Ross responded by saying: “First ministers need to work with governments around the United Kingdom.
“We will deliver most for the people of Scotland for our recovery, if our two governments work together, not always looking to pick fights.”
How is STV covering the election?
Voters in Scotland will go to the polls to decide the make-up of the next Scottish Parliament on Thursday, May 6.
There will be no overnight count at this election due to the coronavirus pandemic, with a result instead expected over the weekend of May 7-9.
Here is how STV News is covering the 2021 election:
Scotland Tonight specials
Colin Mackay has been carrying out one-to-one leaders’ interviews, which are also available for catch-up on the STV Player.
STV News election special
This show will air between 4-7pm and 8pm-8.30pm on Friday, May 7, bringing viewers the first results as they come in.
The programme will be presented by John MacKay outside Holyrood, with STV special correspondent Bernard Ponsonby and Rona Dougall analysing the numbers at STV’s results studio in Glasgow – bringing viewers the story as it unfolds and key declarations as they happen live on air.
STV reporters will be at voting counts across the country, feeding in live to the programme.
An additional special will air on Saturday, May 8 from 4.30-6.30pm, covering the results being declared as the new parliament begins to take shape.
STV News at Six
Coverage continues on STV’s nightly news programme, with Kathryn Samson travelling to communities across the country in her Covid-secure ‘bubble’, inviting viewers to share views on all the political developments of the day.
The STV News website will offer comprehensive, up-to-the-minute coverage including leader interviews, expert insights from STV’s political team, rolling results coverage as the counts declare and detailed analysis once the outcome is known.
Reporting will be available on the STV News website, apps and social media platforms.
For a leaders’ debate to be truly game-changing, it probably requires two things. First, the election has to be on a knife-edge. Consequently, any slip by a leader could prove fatal. And second, the issue which emerges from the crossfire dominates the agenda and shifts votes.
By that yardstick, it was never likely that this ninety-minute showdown would recast Election 2021. The polls are too consistent and the exchanges thus far too predictable to believe a piece of campaign television would materially shift those all-important numbers.
For all that, this debate was very watchable, chaired firmly and fairly by Colin Mackay. Unlike the previous TV debate of this election, it actually managed to cover a range of policy issues, outwith the inevitable discussion about IndyRef2.
And for once an outbreak of mea culpa. The First Minster was upfront in admitting that her government had taken their eye off the ball when it comes to the appalling level of drugs deaths in Scotland.
The Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross repeated an apology about comments he has made in the past about gypsy travellers and he was also candid in admitting his party hasn’t done enough for fishing communities.
And a rare moment of consensus too. All of the leaders agreed that the key issue in the immediate aftermath of the election is economic recovery from the effects of the Covid pandemic.
For the political anoraks, the exchanges in the cross-examination sections of the programme must have felt a little like First Minster’s Questions. Nicola Sturgeon came under repeated attack on the record of her government – from missed targets on health waiting times to the lack of progress on closing the attainment gap in education.
Not to be outdone, Sturgeon went on the attack herself criticising the UK Government for challenging Scottish Parliament legislation on the rights of children and demanding to know from Scottish Labour’s Anas Sarwar how his party can deliver social justice for workers whilst leaving key powers at Westminster to be wielded by Boris Johnson.
And in a sign of the times, all of the leaders attempted to parade their green credentials, which allowed Patrick Harvie to remind viewers that there was only one party worth voting for when it came to being radical on climate change.
And in another sign of the times, none of the opposition leaders attempted to present themselves as a First Minister in waiting. There was an almost tacit acceptance that the polls can’t all be wrong and in all likelihood the SNP would win the election.
There is a pointless question that commentators are asked at the conclusion of these debates. Who won? It’s pointless because electors who have made up their minds will no doubt gravitate to the leader who reinforces their view of the world.
The real issue is if people are inclined to vote for a party as a result of hearing a point of view in the debate. It is, therefore, how the leaders perform among the undecideds that is really the key issue. I suspect in their own way, all of the participants will think, ‘job done’.
The First Minister defended her government’s record, which came under sustained attack, and reminded voters why the full powers of independence were necessary in her view. There was the odd uncomfortable moment but no gaffe that will dominate long after the studio lights go out.
Anas Sarwar has focused on the need for a post-Covid recovery plan. The fact that this debate was not entirely dominated by the constitution will probably please Labour who will feel that there was the time and space in the proceedings to get key messages across. I thought on substance Mr Sarwar was assured and extremely measured.
Douglas Ross was more combative and more composed compared to the BBC debate a few weeks back although he would have raised an eyebrow among his parliamentary colleagues when, in his opening statement, he appealed to viewers to give their list vote to the Scottish Conservatives. Seven Holyrood Tories represent constituencies.
Patrick Harvie is a seasoned performer and it showed again tonight. He described this election as the last one before the climate crisis gets out of control.
Willie Rennie in the past has been on the back foot as he has had to defend Lib Dem participation in the UK coalition Government between 2010-2015. For the first time in a long time he was not asked for repeated apologies for the perceived shortcomings of the Lib Dems in government.
He was strong, very strong in fact on the issue of more money for mental health services. His weakest moments related to his party’s position on the European Union and how precisely, they would get the country back into the EU.
I suspect the parties will all be pleased for different reasons. Forget the judgement of the Twitterati or the obligatory press releases claiming victory. The only judgement that counts is the one on May 6. The range of issues covered tonight might just have made up a few minds and in that sense I thought the debate was a worthwhile public service.
Travel restrictions within Scotland are to be eased this week as the country’s route map out of lockdown continues.
From Friday, Scots will be able to leave their local authority area for the purposes of socialising, recreation or exercise.
Nicola Sturgeon also confirmed that six adults from up to six households will be able to meet up outdoors.
The First Minister announced the changes at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Tuesday.
She said a reduction in prevalence of the virus meant some acceleration of planned lockdown easing was possible to support mental health and wellbeing.
It comes a day after beer gardens and outdoor dining areas in England were allowed to reopen in line with the latest easing of the UK Government’s Covid-19 restrictions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the nation to “behave responsibly” as indoor gyms, swimming pools, nail salons and zoos also welcomed customers back.
Scotland is on schedule to ease restrictions further with cafes, restaurants, beer gardens, museums, libraries and gyms expected to open from April 26.
Hospitality will need to close their doors at 8pm indoors and 10pm outdoors, with alcohol only allowed to be served outside.
Travel will also be allowed on this date to other parts of Britain, with reviews planned on journeys to Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Sturgeon said: “We are now extremely confident that those parts of the country currently in level four will move to level three on April 26, that’s now less that two weeks away.
“That means, amongst other things, that on that day shops will fully reopen, pubs, cafes and restaurants will also be able to fully open outdoors on April 26 and will be able to open indoors on that date, but on a restricted basis.”
The First Minister also announced that, while Scotland’s islands would be able to move to level two, a decision has been made to align them with the rest of the country to stop the need for travel restrictions to the islands.
From May 17, pubs are set to open indoors until 10.30pm and contact sports, cinemas, and some small scale events can take place.
Up to four people from two households will also be able to meet up indoors.
It was also confirmed at the briefing that a further three people have died in Scotland after being diagnosed with Covid-19.
An additional 221 new cases of Covid-19 were also recorded overnight.
The daily test positivity rate is 1.6%, down from the 2.4% reported on Monday when 199 cases were recorded.
According to NHS boards across Scotland, 133 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19.
The Scottish Government also confirmed that 2,682,706 Scots have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, an increase of 13,983 from the day before.
A total of 605,126 people have received their second dose, a rise of 14,952.
The FM said figures are now at their lowest since September, and have fallen by 40% in the past two weeks.
But she warned against complacency, adding: “We’ve got to be careful not to do too much all at once, because we don’t want the virus quickly gaining ground again, particularly because this new variant is we know more infectious and setting us all back.”
The lifting of coronavirus restrictions is to be accelerated, with lockdown measures being eased from Friday.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scots will be able to leave their local authority area for the purposes of socialising, recreation or exercise.
Six adults from up to six households will be able to meet up outdoors.
The First Minister also said the government is “extremely confident” that parts of the country currently under level four restrictions will move to level three on 26 April.
Mainland Scotland and some islands have been under level four restrictions – carrying stay at home guidance – since January 5.
Orkney, Shetland and islands in the Highland and Argyll and Bute local authority areas – with the exception of Skye – are already under level three restrictions.
The Scottish Government’s updated framework on the planned easing of restrictions is available here and the key dates can be viewed at a glance below.
All of the indicative dates are subject to change in accordance with the prevalence of the virus and the progress of the vaccination programme.
From April 16:
Travel: People will be able to leave their local authority area and travel anywhere in mainland Scotland for the purposes of socialising, recreation or exercise, though travel between the mainland and some islands will not be permitted.
Socialising: Rules on gatherings will also be relaxed, with six adults from up to six households able to meet up outside.
From April 26:
Levels: The whole of Scotland expected to move into level three.
Retail: All non-essential retail permitted to reopen.
Socialising: Under level three restrictions, up to six people from two households can socialise indoors in a public place, such as a cafe or restaurant. No in-house socialising permitted.
Travel: The islands, which could have moved to level two, will stay in level three to open travel to and from the mainland. Journeys across the border to England will also be permitted, with reviews planned on journeys to Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Hospitality: Hospitality venues like cafes, pubs and restaurants can open until 8pm indoors – but without alcohol – and 10pm outdoors where alcohol is allowed to be consumed.
Gyms: Gyms can open for individual exercise.
Tourism: Tourist accommodation can open with restrictions in place.
Driving lessons: Driving lessons and tests can resume.
Weddings and funerals: Funerals and weddings including post-funeral events and receptions can take place with up to 50 people, but no alcohol may be served.
Visitor attractions: Indoor attractions and public buildings such as galleries, museums and libraries can open.
From May 17:
Levels: Scottish Government plans to move all of Scotland to level two.
Socialising: Under level two restrictions, up to six people from three households can socialise indoors in a public place, such as a cafe or restaurant. Four people from two households can socialise inside a house. Eight adults from up to eight households are able to meet up outside.
Hospitality: Venues can open and sell alcohol indoors until 10.30pm or outdoors until 10pm.
Sport: Outdoor adult contact sport and indoor group exercise can restart.
Recreation: Cinemas, amusement arcades, and bingo halls can open.
Events: Small-scale outdoor and indoor events can resume subject to capacity constraints.
Support: Face-to-face support services (where not possible to deliver remotely) can resume.
Further education: Universities and colleges can return to a more blended model of learning. Non-professional performance arts can resume outdoors.
Worship: Communal worship can open, subject to capacity constraints.
From early June:
Levels: Scottish Government plans to move Scotland into level one in early June.
Socialising: Under level one restrictions, up to eight people from three households can socialise indoors in a public place, such as a cafe or restaurant. Six people from three households can socialise inside a house. Twelve adults from up to twelve households are able to meet up outside.
Hospitality: Hospitality can remain open until 11pm.
Events: Attendance at events can increase, subject to capacity constraints.
Sport: Indoor non-contact sport can take place.
Weddings, funerals and places of worship: Numbers of guests at weddings, funerals and in places of worship may be able to increase.
From late June:
Levels: The Scottish Government plans to move Scotland into level zero by the end of June.
Socialising: Under level zero, restrictions up to 10 people from four households can socialise indoors in a public place, such as a cafe or restaurant. Eight people from four households can socialise inside a house. Fifteen adults from up to fifteen households are able to meet up outside.
Offices: A phased return of some office staff.
Steps that have already been taken
From February 22:
Schools: Primaries one, two and three returned to class full-time in late February. Nursery children also went back on that date, along with some senior pupils facing assessments in S4-S6 on a part-time basis.
Care homes: Regular visiting resumed in Scottish care homes from early March, with residents allowed to have two designated visitors each. Each designated visitor can see their relative once a week.
Socialising: Rules eased from Friday, March 12 to allow outdoor meetings of four people from two households.
Sport: Non-contact outdoor group sports for 12-17-year-olds – in groups of up to 15 – were also permitted to resume from March 12.
From March 15:
Schools: The second phase of schools reopening began on March 15. Primary four to seven pupils returned full-time and all secondary school pupils went back on a part-time ‘blended learning’ basis until Easter.
Universities and colleges: Phased return of a further small number of priority students for in-person learning.
Communal worship: Places of worship reopened with numbers restricted to 50 – up from the previously proposed limit of 20 – from March 26.
From April 2:
Stay at home: The ‘stay at home’ order changed on April 2 to ‘stay local’, allowing for travel within a local authority area for non-essential purposes.
From April 5:
Hairdressers: Hairdressers and barbers opened in Scotland for pre-booked appointments on April 5.
Retail: More retailers including click-and-collect services, garden centres, car dealerships, homeware and electrical repair stores began welcoming back customers.
Sport: Outdoor contact sports for 12-17-year olds returned.
Further education: More university and college students returned for in-person teaching.
From April 12:
Schools: All pupils returning to school full time after the Easter holiday – start date varies according to the local authority.
Armed police lockdown supermarket amid hunt for driver
Officers with guns surrounded the Aldi in Newton Mearns on Tuesday afternoon.
Armed police have surrounded a supermarket in Newton Mearns in a hunt for occupants of a car involved in an earlier incident.
A large number of police vehicles and officers have sealed off Aldi on Greenlaw Way.
A shopper told STV News that police had blocked the entrance to the carpark to prevent anyone else from entering.
At around 3pm on Tuesday, a car reportedly mounted the pavement on Pollokshaws road in Glasgow before driving off.
Officers traced the car to Greenlaw Way where they are now searching for the occupants.
A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Police were called to Pollokshaws Road in Glasgow around 3pm on Tuesday, 13 April, following a report that a car had mounted the pavement before driving from the scene.
“This car has been traced in Greenlaw Way and officers are carrying out searches in the area for the occupants. Enquiries into the full circumstances of the incident are ongoing and there is not believed to be any threat to the wider public.”
Inverness claim striker Todorov was racially abused at Raith
Highland club say striker showed 'exemplary conduct' after he was issued with excessive misconduct charge by the SFA.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle striker Nikolay Todorov was subjected to “extreme provocation, racist abuse and violence” in a match against Raith Rovers, the club alleged on Tuesday.
The Highland side released a statement after Todorov was issued with an excessive misconduct charge by the Scottish Football Association due to an alleged breach of conduct during the Championship match in Kirkcaldy on March 16.
Raith Rovers midfielder Iain Davidson has also been issued with an excessive misconduct charge for an alleged breach during the same match.
Both players face disciplinary hearings in the coming weeks.
Inverness CT said in a statement: “Today, Inverness Caledonian Thistle player Nikolay Todorov was issued a notice of complaint by the SFA. This relates to an allegation that disciplinary rule 202 was breached i.e ‘No player shall commit excessive misconduct at a match’.
“We will robustly defend our player from this allegation. Nikolay’s conduct on March 16 was entirely exemplary during the extreme provocation, racist abuse and violence he was subjected to. We are unable at this stage to comment further.”
Davidson was shown a straight red card for a foul on Todorov after ten minutes during the match at Stark’s Park last month.
Solicitor Aamer Anwar, who has been instructed to act on behalf of Todorov, said: “Nikolay Todorov vehemently denies that he is guilty of any misconduct. He sees the allegations as spurious and believes the facts will speak for themselves at a full hearing in due course.
“However, it is important to state what is already in the public domain, during the course of the match Nikolay was subjected to violent tackles on two occasions, whilst another player was grabbed by the throat, which resulted in a Raith Rovers player being issued two red cards on the second occasion and sent off.
“During the first incident it is alleged that Nikolay was subjected to racial abuse which left him shaken and upset. The alleged abuse was witnessed by others.”
Raith Rovers made no comment when approached by STV News.
A club spokesperson said: “We await the result of the disciplinary case involving Iain Davidson.”
Nicola Sturgeon has said she “carries the weight” of the decision to move patients into care homes during the early days of the pandemic with her “every single day”.
During Tuesday’s coronavirus briefing, the First Minister said she “can’t turn the clock back” in order to make different decisions over the care of older patients.
It comes as the Scottish health secretary admitted moving patients back from hospitals into care homes was a “mistake”.
In an interview with the BBC, Jeane Freeman said the Scottish Government had failed in “understanding the social care sector well enough” and “didn’t take the right precautions” when older people were leaving hospitals.
When asked about Freeman’s comments during the briefing, Sturgeon said: “We thought it was wrong to leave older people in hospitals that were about to be overrun with Covid.
“We thought they would be safer in other settings with the right infection protection procedures and isolation procedures in place, and we didn’t know what we know now about asymptomatic transmission.
“We have tried to learn as we have gone along and we’ve made changes as we’ve gone along and thankfully, although one death is one too many, in the second wave that we have experienced, deaths in care homes have been significantly lower than in the first because we had learned those lessons as we’ve gone along.
“I can’t turn the clock back and know everything then that I know now.
“We tried to make the best decisions but we would have got things wrong, it is inevitable given what we were dealing with but that doesn’t mean that the sense of responsibility we feel for that is any less.
“There will be a full public inquiry into all of this and I hope that we will see this public inquiry get under way later this year.
“Please believe me when I say I carry the weight of this every single day and alway will in terms of the decisions we were taking.”