Holyrood 2016: Leaders make final appeals before polling day

Political leaders yesterday made a last pitch for votes ahead of Scotland going to the polls to determine the make-up of a Scottish Parliament strengthened by new taxation powers.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale at a campaign event in Edinburgh. Picture: PA

Speaking in Glasgow, Nicola Sturgeon made a plea for unity at the end of a campaign dominated by arguments over a second referendum and how the new tax powers will be used.

The SNP leader appealed to Scots to “come together” and elect a Scottish Government for the whole nation.

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With opinion polls suggesting the SNP is expected to retain its majority comfortably, much interest will be in the battle between Labour and the Conservatives for second place.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale insisted her party would see off the Conservative challenge. Meanwhile, Tory leader Ruth Davidson said she believed her party would overtake Labour and she would become leader of Holyrood’s main opposition.

On the final full day of campaigning, Ms Sturgeon spoke at Glasgow’s Buchanan Street steps. She said: “I know there will be people in every part of Scotland, even those who vote SNP, who do not agree with everything I say or do, or who do not agree with everything the SNP says or does.

“I hope to encourage this country to come together to elect a government that has Scotland’s interests at heart at all times, a government that will put the interests of this country first, last and always. In asking you to elect me as the First Minister, I pledge to you today my determination each and every day to lead this country with confidence, with optimism, with imagination, with ambition.”

Ms Sturgeon also urged her supporters not to take victory for granted. With other parties including the Greens and the left-wing alliance RISE calling on Nationalists to back them with their list vote, Ms Sturgeon called on her supporters to cast both votes for the SNP.

She added: “I am asking people across this country of ours to elect the SNP for a historic third term in government and with great humility I am asking people across our country to elect me to be the First Minister and lead our country for the next five years.”

Just a few hours after Ms Sturgeon’s speech, her predecessor, Alex Salmond MP, raised the question of a second independence referendum – one of the most contentious issues of the campaign.

Speaking on his LBC radio show, he said the UK government could not block another vote, despite Prime Minister David Cameron’s view that the SNP should keep to its promise that the 2014 poll was a once in a generation event.

Asked about power over referendums being in Westminster’s control, Mr Salmond said: “Once you have that sustained opinion in Scotland, once you have a vote of the Scottish Parliament – both of which you would have to have – than no UK prime minister is going to gainsay it, not in any democracy.” He added: “Any UK prime minister will concede and bow to the will and wishes of the Scottish people because the Scottish people are sovereign.”

Campaigning in Edinburgh, Ms Dugdale promoted her proposal for an extra 1p on income tax, which would see taxpayers in Scotland pay more than elsewhere in the UK. The Scottish Labour leader said raising tax was the only way to combat austerity and prevent cuts to public services.

She said: “They [voters] have a clear choice now – they can either send MSPs into the parliament next week who exist to stop the cuts, to oppose austerity, who will talk about investing in Scotland’s future and using the new powers, or they can send some Tory MSPs who will impose austerity, who stand for more cuts, who want the government to do less.”

The Labour leader also hit back at suggestions the Tories were best placed to oppose the SNP’s bid for a second independence referendum.

Ms Dugdale said: “I was proud to vote No. I still believe that Scotland is best placed within the United Kingdom and I will always believe that, and I will always fight for that.”

At a rally for Conservative supporters at Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens, Ms Davidson said the outcome of the election was “entirely down to the voters” but added that she thought she would beat Ms Dugdale’s party.

Ms Davidson said her ambition was for the Conservatives to have their “best campaign ever, with more seats and more MSPs than ever before”.

The Tory leader also claimed to have met some voters who are voting SNP on the constituency ballot and Conservative on their regional ballot.

She said: “Bizarrely, I’ve met lots of people who are using one vote for who they want as the government and one vote for who they want as an opposition. There are quite a lot of people who voted Yes who aren’t natural SNP voters, so they do want to have a government that is held to account.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie called for action on the economy as he reacted to analysis of the Scottish National Accounts.

According to work by economist John McLaren of Glasgow University, the Scottish economy has only grown in cash terms by 4 per cent since the 2008 recession, far behind the almost 23 per cent experienced elsewhere in the UK.

Mr Rennie said: “Lib Dems say Scotland can’t wait any longer for the action our economy needs. We need to invest in the skills and talents of the Scottish people with a penny for education. We need Scotland to be the best again.”