BBC Debate Night sees party leaders clash on independence and the cost of living

Independence, austerity and the NHS dominate BBC Scotland general election leaders debate

Scotland’s political party leaders clashed on the cost of living, the NHS and independence as they went head-to-head in a live televised debate last night.

Addressing the BBC event in Stirling, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the general election on July 4 should be about getting rid of the Tories rather than independence, but also issued a plea to those who support leaving the UK.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I don't support independence, I don't support a referendum, but I can understand why so many people across Scotland were looking for an escape route from a Tory Government," he said.

SNP leader John Swinney and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, during a General Election special edition of BBC Debate Night with the leaders of the five main Scottish parties answering questions in Glasgow. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA WireSNP leader John Swinney and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, during a General Election special edition of BBC Debate Night with the leaders of the five main Scottish parties answering questions in Glasgow. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
SNP leader John Swinney and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, during a General Election special edition of BBC Debate Night with the leaders of the five main Scottish parties answering questions in Glasgow. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

But First Minister John Swinney stressed it should be "for the people of Scotland to decide the future of Scotland".

The SNP leader insisted: "People in this country have a democratic right to decide if they wish to be independent."

And he said even if the SNP lost in the election the party would continue to make the case for leaving the UK.

"The SNP is a party which believes in Scottish independence," he told the audience.

Douglas Ross arriving to speak to the media in Edinburgh this week after he announced he will resign as leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA WireDouglas Ross arriving to speak to the media in Edinburgh this week after he announced he will resign as leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Douglas Ross arriving to speak to the media in Edinburgh this week after he announced he will resign as leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

"If we accept a continuation of the UK Government in Scotland we are signing up to more austerity."

Mr Swinney stressed there is a "fixed sum" of money available to the Scottish Government - although he said "tough decisions" by ministers at Holyrood to increase tax had made more cash available for services.

But the First Minister insisted: "At the heart of the Conservative and the Labour campaigns is a determination to keep austerity going.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"That is the reality people are facing in this election - austerity from the Tories or austerity from the Labour Party."

But Mr Sarwar told him: "Read my lips. No austerity under Labour."

The Scottish Labour leader added: "I will not disagree with you when it comes to the state of the carnage the Conservatives have imposed on this country and the state of the public finances.

"Therefore in 23 days' time the choice the people in this country have is they can wake up to five more years of Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Suella Braverman and Jacob Rees-Mogg, or we can get rid of the whole sleazy lot of them and elect a Labour government."

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross said there had been a "decade of division" in Scotland since the independence referendum in 2014.

He insisted independence was "the obsession of the nationalists", adding: "It's not the NHS, not the education system, it's not carers.

"It's going to be independence above everything else and Scotland will suffer as a result of that.

"We can do so much better."

Mr Ross said: "We can have a better future for Scotland if the SNP are beaten at this election and end their obsession with independence."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton complained it was "hard" for people to get GP appointments - noting he had met a woman in Caithness in the Highlands who had to phone her doctor's surgery 200 times to try to get seen.

Noting that one in four GP appointments are about mental health issues, he said Scotland is dealing with a "mental health crisis".

He added his party would fix this by trebling the digital services tax which is paid by social media giants such as Facebook and Instagram, with the cash raised from this then used to improve mental health care.

Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater blamed the problem on the "tiny packet of money" the Scottish Government receives from Westminster in the form of the block grant.

She said this forced government ministers to make "impossible" decisions on how the cash should be spent.

Earlier, Mr Ross apologised to Scottish Conservative voters as he admitted his party’s campaign has been damaged by recent events.

Mr Ross announced on Monday he would step down as party leader after the general election following a row over his decision to contest the Aberdeenshire North and Moray East seat.

He also confirmed he would quit as a Highlands and Islands MSP if he won the constituency.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The issue stemmed from the deselection of former Scotland Office minister David Duguid who was told by the party’s management board he could not stand due to ill health, with Mr Ross stepping in.

Mr Ross previously said he would stand down as the MP for Moray to focus on Holyrood. His decision to run for Westminster again was criticised by some of his party colleagues.

Speaking to journalists in Edinburgh, Mr Ross said he had messaged Mr Duguid and the latter had responded, but had expressed a desire not to speak at the moment. Mr Duguid has denied being too ill to stand.

Asked if the Scottish Tory campaign had been damaged, Mr Ross said: “Yeah, it’s been a very challenging few days, and I’m not trying to ignore that or run away from that. I accept that.”

Meanwhile politicians condemned “violence” towards Nigel Farage after objects were thrown at the Reform UK leader on the General Election campaign trail.

Mr Farage was on top of a party battle bus in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, when a cup was thrown, narrowly missing him.

A man in a red hoodie could be seen shouting from a construction area below, before reaching into a bucket and throwing something else, which also missed.

Workmen appeared to then haul the man from the site and he ran off, before police officers tackled him.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

South Yorkshire Police said they had arrested a 28-year-old man, who remained in police custody.

Mr Farage, speaking later while campaigning in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, said the attack was “pretty nasty”.

Comments

 0 comments

Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.