BBC Scottish leaders debate: what Nicola Sturgeon and other politicians said on pandemic, independence and NHS

Rival Scottish political leaders went head-to-head in a TV debate on Monday, March 30 ahead of the Holyrood election campaign.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and Scottish Green co-leader Lorna Slater clashed over several issues, including Scottish independence, pandemic recovery and the NHS backlog.

Independence referendum

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Nicola Sturgeon said that when the coronavirus crisis has passed, Scottish people should have a “choice on independence”.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon rehearsing her SNP Campaign Conference speech.

But Douglas Ross insisted: “We can’t have a recovery and a referendum.”

Anas Sarwar, meanwhile, said he wanted to “focus on what unites us as a country, not what divides us”.

Willie Rennie also ruled out another referendum, but Lorna Green said her party would support one.

Nicola Sturgeon said she had not put an independence bill through the Parliament but had published a draft. If elected, she said she would want a vote to take place in the first half of the next five-year Holyrood term.

Pandemic recovery

In her opening statement, Nicola Sturgeon promised “bold policies to drive our recovery” as she told voters: “These are serious times, and they demand serious leadership.”

Nicola Sturgeon said that recovery is not a “neutral thing”, pointing out the danger of “wrong decisions” being taken by Westminster.

She spoke of a “wellbeing-based recovery” in which, if she was reelected, the country would “look at how we pilot and explore things like a four-day working week to get that work-life balance better.”

Douglas Ross suggested that recovery would be hampered by any independence referendum, saying:

“When we’re still trying to recover our economy, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed to everyone tonight that the SNP will take us forward into another independence referendum if they get that majority.”

He added that the most important part of recovery going forward would be to protect jobs and keep people in employment.

He said the Scottish Conservatives would set up a job security council and a "retrain to rebuild" grant.

Anas Sarwar called for power to be pushed into regional hubs and for Covid support to be tapered out gradually, while Lorna Slater said the Scottish Greens have costed policies which are good for the economy, the people of Scotland and the climate.

Willie Rennie said support will be needed for the people who have missed out on reskilling through education.

NHS backlog

Anas Sarwar pointed out a huge NHS backlog in Scotland, saying the country needs an NHS restart plan with cancer centres and robust investment in mental health services.

Douglas Ross also criticised the current SNP government on the NHS, saying their treatment time guarantee has never been met with Nicola Sturgeon as first minister.

Nicola Sturgeon hit back, however, saying the government has invested three times the amount of money into the NHS that they initially committed to.

She said the government has been working on plans to reduce the current backlog.

Willie Rennie also emphasised the need for proper investment in services, while Lorna Slater questioned what’s actually being invested in - saying that Boris Johnson will find money for nuclear weapons, but claims a pay rise for nurses is not viable.