Election: Scottish party leaders face off in TV debate

The SNP, Scottish Tory, Scottish Labour and Scottish Lib Dem leaders clashed on the BBC.

Debate: BBC host clash with four Scottish party leaders. Alan Peebles / BBC
Debate: BBC host clash with four Scottish party leaders.

Scottish party leaders have clashed over independence and the legacy of austerity as they faced off in a televised showdown with less than 36 hours to go until polls open.

Nicola Sturgeon emphasised the importance to her of holding a second independence vote next year, when the UK, even if it does leave the EU, would still be in the transition period.

But Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw criticised the First Minister for failing to “accept the outcome” of the 2014 referendum, a claim she denied.

Richard Leonard said a “redistributive” Labour government would challenge the belief that Scotland has been neglected by Westminster, while Willie Rennie warned against repeating the “chaos” of Brexit with independence.

The SNP, Scottish Tory, Scottish Labour and Scottish Lib Dem leaders took part in BBC Scotland’s hour-long leaders’ debate, built around audience questions and hosted by Sarah Smith.

It follows STV’s Scottish leaders’ debate, featuring the same four, last week.

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Asked by an audience member if Brexit would make an independence referendum “inevitable”, Carlaw said: “I don’t necessarily believe there will be a second independence referendum.

“We promised it wouldn’t be for a generation, and so I don’t think it will be until a generation has passed that we should put ourselves and our country through that again.”

Listing the powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament in areas like health and justice, Carlaw added: “It’s those public services that are currently suffering because Nicola Sturgeon’s first, second, third and fourth priority is the constitution.

“Not your jobs, not your health service, not your schools and not the Scottish economy.”

He said the SNP had refused to honour the outcome both of that vote and of the 2016 EU referendum.

The Scottish Tory leader continued: “My view is the most divisive thing you can do is to refuse to accept the outcome of the vote when you put it to the people – you can’t have disposable democracy.”

“A million Scots voted with the majority in the rest of the UK to leave the European Union and our duty is to get the best possible deal to leave the European Union, you have to respect that democratic outcome.”

But Sturgeon countered: “It’s not democracy if people are not allowed to change their minds when the circumstances change, and circumstances in Scotland have changed dramatically and significantly since the 2014 referendum.

“I don’t like the word inevitable because I think if you think about anything in politics being inevitable is complacent and it doesn’t treat voters with respect.

“But I do believe that people in Scotland when they get the choice again will vote to be independent, because the last few years have demonstrated to us the price we are paying for not being independent.”

She added: “I don’t accept the result of the Brexit referendum because Scotland voted to Remain.

“As First Minister of Scotland, I think I’ve got a duty to represent that majority opinion.”

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Rennie said the experience of Brexit had put Scots off independence, saying: “People have seen how difficult Brexit is, how breaking up a union of 40 years, the turmoil, the division, the economic damage that has come with it.

“We shouldn’t mount chaos upon chaos.”

He called on Scots to unite with others across the UK to try to keep the UK in the European Union, urging them: “Let’s not give up on that battle.”

Leonard argued a “redistributive” UK Labour government would transform the view of Scots away from independence.

He said: “We make our own history and there is no inevitability.

“I think this Thursday at the general election, we’ve got the opportunity to elect a very different kind of UK Government, one that instead of continuing with austerity and cuts to public services and the squeeze on living standards, will start to change that and invest in public services.”

The Scottish Labour added: “It’s not how the UK Government has treated Scotland, it’s how the Tory government has treated Scotland.”

Challenged on Conservative spending cuts since 2010, Carlaw said the actions of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition after the financial crisis had prevented mass unemployment.

The Scottish Tory leader: “People had a wage freeze, yes there were cuts – all of that was designed to ensure that we did not have millions of people in this country out of work.

“We have a record number of people in work today. We got through this financial crisis with people staying in work.

“Now, as we come out of austerity, with one of the best growth rates in Europe, with low interest rates, with low inflation, as we come out of the EU and seek to maximise the opportunities that come from that, we have the opportunity to start to invest again sustainably and sensibly in our public services.”

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Leonard countered: “Jackson talks about record levels of employment, but how many of those people are on insecure forms of contract, how many of them are on zero-hours, how many of them are employed by agencies?”

The Scottish Labour leader went on: “The reality today is one in four children in Scotland are living in poverty.

“And what’s worse, of those children, two out of three of them live in a household where at least one adult is in work.

“There is a real problem of low pay in our economy and that’s why we are proposing to introduce a new national minimum wage rate of £10 an hour.”

Sturgeon said: “To listen to Jackson Carlaw, it’s almost as if he’s saying you’ve never had it so good. He sounds completely and utterly out of touch.

“In every one of the last three budgets, I think, in the Scottish Parliament, the Tories’ priority, what they’ve tried to persuade the Scottish Government to do, is not invest more in the health service, not invest more in education, but to pass on a tax cut to higher rate tax payers.

“To give money to the richest in society instead of our public services. That’s the priorities of the Tories. What you see is what you get.”

Rennie said: “Every single analysis (the government) has done of Brexit and what it will mean for our economy has proven it will make us poorer.

“If we stop Brexit there would be an immediate Remain bonus of £50bn by an increase in GDP of 0.4% a year. That could be invested in public services.”

The Lib Dem MSP added: “The IFS has said our proposals are radical and prudent – they are costed.

“The Resolution Foundation has said they are the most progressive – even more progressive than Labour’s – because they help people who are trying to get into work.”