Leaders face fury over expenses during TV debate

THE Westminster leaders of Scotland's main political parties were left in no doubt about the anger felt over the expenses scandal and the public's disillusion with politics when they clashed in the STV leaders' debate last night.

• Angus Robertson (SNP), Alistair Carmichael (Lib Dem), Jim Murphy (Lab) and David Mundell (Con) prepare to do battle. Picture: PA

Jim Murphy, the Scottish Secretary, David Mundell, the shadow Scottish secretary, Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat Scotland spokesman, and Angus Robertson, the SNP's Westminster leader, were scolded by audience members when they took part in the first Scottish leaders' debate of the election.

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One member of the audience accused MPs of behaving like "members of a private club who had made up their own rules", while another said she would have been sacked from her job had she done what some MPs had done.

Mr Robertson, who was criticised for claiming a home-cinema system on his expenses, called for criminal sanctions to be invoked against those who abused their expenses, and said all profits should be paid back.

All four politicians acknowledged the anger felt by the public during a heated discussion that was far rowdier than last week's UK leaders' debate. Increased audience participation contributed to a more febrile atmosphere than last week and resulted in the politicians taking a more combative approach.

Mr Murphy admitted that there was "too much squabbling in politics". Minutes later, a spat between Mr Mundell and Mr Carmichael over the merits of a hung parliament led to Mr Murphy, a teetotaller, saying that they sounded like "two drunk men arguing in a pub".

The debate began with Mr Murphy and Mr Robertson agreeing the public was "scunnered" over the expenses scandal and the recessions.

All four outlined their plans to make savings. Mr Murphy said Labour's plan was to get more people back to work. Mr Carmichael said the Lib Dems had identified 15 billion of cuts, and Mr Mundell called for a cut in the government's IT programmes.

Mr Robertson said the SNP would scrap Trident and ID cards and would reform the House of Lords. But he also argued for a fiscal stimulus.

The politicians were also quizzed on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr Murphy admitted that a "catastrophic error" had been made in the aftermath of Iraq, in that the international community had underestimated the extent of the "internecine violence" and feuding that left so many dead.