Scottish TV election debate: Nicola Sturgeon says she prefers 'four-nations approach' to reopening international travel

Nicola Sturgeon has insisted she would prefer restrictions on foreign travel to be relaxed on a “four-nations basis”.

The First Minister tonight claimed she would rather work with the UK Government on restrictions, but warned she would only agree to a joint policy if it was in Scotland’s “interests”.

Her declaration came during tonight’s BBC debate where Ms Sturgeon also hinted the SNP could increase income taxes over the course of the next Scottish Parliament if "unforeseen circumstances" meant ministers needed to raise more cash.

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Ms Sturgeon said she wanted to get international travel “back to normal just as much as I want to get every other aspect of our lives back to normal as quickly as possible”, but that it may have to wait “a little bit longer”.

Scottish party leaders debate the Covid recovery on the election's final TV debate. Picture: BBC Scotland
Scottish party leaders debate the Covid recovery on the election's final TV debate. Picture: BBC Scotland

She said: “It can’t be on any four-nations basis, it has got to be on the right four-nations basis.”

“I will not go along with something, if I am First Minister of course, if it is something I don’t think is in the interests of Scotland.”

The SNP leader claimed when things open up again, the focus should be on “family reunification before holidays”, but stressed the need for caution.

She added: “We have to protect our progress at home, open up much greater normality domestically, then for a little bit longer it might be restrictions on international travel are the price we have to pay for that.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is quizzed on the constitution at tonight's BBC TV leaders' debate. Picture: BBC Scotland

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The SNP have said the position on international travel will be considered in the next Covid review, expected to be announced next Tuesday.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar insisted Scotland should not be afraid to diverge from the rest of the UK on international travel if it was the right thing to do.

But he stressed the major frustration for the tourism and aviation industries had been the lack of communication as he called for them to be given a clear route map back to normality.

Ms Sturgeon insisted a decision had not yet been taken on foreign travel, but stressed it would be one of the first made by the country’s leader in the week after Thursday’s election.

It came during a debate that also saw Mr Sarwar commit to ending private involvement in social care as one of Scottish Labour's long-term ambitions.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross responded that people were "understandably still concerned about taking the virus back into Scotland and the UK".

He stressed: "We do have to be cautious because we don't want to see mutations of the virus brought back into Scotland when we have been so successful in getting on top of the virus."

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie pointed out most countries had not made as much progress in vaccinating people as has been managed in the UK.

He said: "While the world is still waiting to be vaccinated, and most countries are not doing that at the scale and pace we are here in Scotland, there is still going to be that risk that we import new cases, potentially new, more dangerous variants.

"If we want to ease the restrictions at home and see more of our day to day lives get back to normal, my suspicion is international travel for non-essential reasons will have to be one of the latest things that resumes."

Questioned on other aspects of Scotland’s Covid recovery, Mr Sarwar said Scottish Labour would look to end private involvement in social care as a "longer-term ambition".

Mr Sarwar, whose party supports the establishment of a national care service, said getting the sector into public hands would not happen "overnight".

When pushed on whether he would support scrapping private care homes, Mr Sarwar said: "That's a longer-term ambition, but if we're going to deliver [a national care service] over the next parliament, it has to done as a partnership between the public sector, voluntary sector and third sector."

Mr Harvie also agreed with Mr Sarwar's ambition, while Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said his party was "very wary" of the idea.

Ms Sturgeon also agreed with taking profit out of care, saying: "Ultimately, I think that would be the direction of travel because I think we need to reflect on that, just like our National Health Service, the care of our most vulnerable older people must not be driven by the profit motive."

The First Minister said that based on assumptions made about growth and tax revenues, the SNP’s manifesto commitments could be funded. She added: “We have no plans to raise tax in the next parliament.”

But Mr Ross attacked the SNP over its economic pledges, claiming the party’s manifesto was “uncosted” and that it wasn’t being “honest” with the public.

He said by the end of the parliament he would like to see parity in the tax system with the rest of the UK.

The leaders of Scotland's main political parties all agreed a new royal yacht should not be paid for by public money.

Reports in recent days have suggested the vessel could cost as much as £200 million, but Ms Sturgeon has said it would be no more than a distraction.

"The only reason Boris Johnson has been talking about this is to distract attention from the sleaze that is swirling around him and his government – everyone should see through it," she said.

Mr Harvie described the idea as an "absurdity", while Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: "I could think of probably 500 other things I would rather spend that money on."

Mr Sarwar described the move as a "cheap stunt", but Mr Ross said he believed the vessel would be paid for by private investment, adding public money should "absolutely not" be used to fund the project.

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