STV Leaders Debate: what did Nicola Sturgeon, Douglas Ross, Anas Sarwar and other leaders say?

Five of Scotland's political leaders squared off on Tuesday night (STV)Five of Scotland's political leaders squared off on Tuesday night (STV)
Five of Scotland's political leaders squared off on Tuesday night (STV)
Nicola Sturgeon’s record as first minister came under attack on Tuesday night

Five of Scotland’s rival political leaders squared up for the second TV debate of the election campaign.

The STV debate Nicola Sturgeon Douglas Ross, Anas Sarwar, Patrick Harvie and Willie Rennie trade blows over tackling climate change, the handling of the coronavirus pandemic and drug deaths.

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Alex Salmond of the Alba Party was a notable absentee, the former SNP leader accusing STV of “effectively censoring” his party and "distorting the democratic process".

George Galloway meanwhile of the All For Unity Party slated the "blatantly unlawful decision" to not include himself in a leaders’ debate.

Here's what he five leaders who were invited to the debate said on Tuesday night.

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Pitching themselves as leaders

The five leaders told viewers why they believed they and their party should receive votes.

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SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon urged Scots to re-elect her as First Minister in May’s Holyrood election – promising “strong leadership” through the rest of the Covid-19 pandemic and a second independence vote in its aftermath.

Ms Sturgeon said she offered people “continued strong leadership to steer the country through the pandemic”.

She said “when the crisis is over” Scots should have “the choice of a better future with independence”.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said other issues such as tackling drug deaths, improving mental health care and increasing the number of police officers should take priority.

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Speaking on the STV leaders’ debate, he insisted: “We can recover from Covid using the strong foundations of the United Kingdom, we can tackle the looming economic crisis.

“But we won’t manage any of that if the SNP get a majority and hold another divisive referendum.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar argued politicians must “focus on what unites us as a country, not what divides us”.

In the wake of coronavirus, he insisted: “A national recovery can’t just be a slogan. It must be our collective national mission.”

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Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie also disagreed that there should be another referendum in the next five years.

“We’re still in the wake of the most deadly pandemic,” he said.

“Over 10,000 people have lost their life, thousands more have lost their job, this is not the moment for another referendum.”

He urged people to “put recovery first” by backing his party.

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Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie said the election on May 6 was “like no other before it”.

He said that was not just because of Covid-19, adding: “Unless we act it may be the last election before the climate crisis spirals beyond our control.

“Scottish Greens recognise this is an election where our future is at stake, we need to act now.”

He promised his party would work for a “fair and green recovery” which he said could create 100,000 jobs and help tackle the climate crisis.

A power-grab from Westminster?

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Mr Harvie, under prompting from SNP leader Ms Sturgeon, went on to attack the UK Government.

Ms Sturgeon said they were facing “the biggest assault on the powers of the Scottish Parliament since devolution”.

Mr Harvie agreed this was a “reality”, hitting out at the UK Government for “being willing to legislate in devolved areas against the explicit refusal of consent by the Scottish Parliament”.

With the UK Government now planning to go to the Supreme Court to try to stop legislation passed by Holyrood on children’s right, he added that “the idea we have a stable devolution settlement is a nonsense”.

Scotland’s place in the EU

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Willie Rennie faced pressure from Nicola Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie over the Lib Dems’ approach to rejoining the EU without independence.

The Scottish Greens co-leader said: “As far as I can tell, you’ve given up on us getting back into the European Union.

“I think it’s clear that independence is the only option.”

The First Minister said: “Isn’t your message to the people of Scotland that you don’t think there’s a route back any time soon?”

Mr Rennie claimed Brexit was an example as to why breaking from the UK was not a good idea.

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He added: “These were dangerous issues, they needed to be handled with care.

“That’s why we want to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes with independence.”

The Scottish Lib Dem leader said the focus should be on convincing people of the merits of being in the EU.

Sturgeon’s record under fire

Ms Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland since 2014, came under fire over her record in government.

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As she was questioned by her rival leaders, Mr Ross accused her of failing to meet promises made in key areas.

The Tory leader told her: “You have made promises on the attainment gap, victims’ rights, broadband, ferries, income tax and the treatment time guarantee.

“You have delivered your promises on none of them. You have let down Scotland for the last 14 years.”

He continued his attack by saying: “Now in an economic crisis, you want to wreck Scotland’s recovery.”

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Ms Sturgeon said “progress” had been made in tackling the attainment gap in schools and NHS waiting times had been reducing before Covid-19 hit.

Mr Sarwar questioned Ms Sturgeon over problems at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow – which was commissioned when the SNP leader was still health secretary.

The Labour leader said the flagship building had been allowed to open despite a report saying “the water supply was not safe and at high risk of infection”.

He said this resulted in 40 infections in child cancer patients, and two deaths.

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Ms Sturgeon said: “I am proud of the record of the Government I have led.”

She added: “Like all governments we make mistakes, and we get things wrong and we do not shy away from putting it right and learning the lessons.”

Tories under attack from all sides

Mr Ross also came under attack from the Green co-leader on the issue of gypsy travellers.

Mr Harvie recalled that the Tory, when asked what he would do if he was PM for the day, had promised tougher action on gypsy travellers, as he went on to ask: “Is it your whole party that is prejudiced against gypsy travellers, or just you?”

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Mr Ross said he had already apologised for those remarks, made some time ago, saying he should have answered the question “far better”.

The Conservative went on to say there was “far more I can do and everyone can do” for this group.

Mr Sarwar said the Tories had given Scotland “Boris and Brexit”, adding that “things are so bad even Ruth Davidson (the former Scottish Conservative leader) has walked away”.

Mr Ross insisted his party had tried to “hold a failing SNP government to account”.

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The Scottish Labour leader told him: “I agree there are failings in the government. There is also failures of the opposition.”

Mr Sarwar told the Tory: “You want to talk up division, because you want to gain votes.

“You aren’t good for the union, you aren’t good for the national recovery, you aren’t even good for the Tories. Scotland deserves a better opposition.”