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Scotland Debates: Scottish party leaders square off in televised debate

Scotland Debates
Scotland Debates

The first Scottish leaders debate of the General Election campaign proved to be a heated affair.

First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy, Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie and Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson, went head-to-head to try and win over voters for each of their respective parties, north of the border.

Scotland will play a pivotal role in next month’s election, with many believing it will be the key battleground in determining who comes out on top, on May 7.

VOTE: Who won the Scottish leaders’ debate?

The debate was split into three parts, kicking off with each leader being questioned by STV political editor Bernard Ponsenby.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged to throw her support behind Ed Miliband and Labour in the event of a hung parliament, in order to keep David Cameron and the Conservatives from regaining power.

Jim Murphy, however, was more relucant to publicly accept Ms Sturgeon’s olive branch, dismissing the offer.

Mr Murphy said he never went into a contest not believing he would win even when the odds were stacked against him, likening it to watching his football team play Barcelona, adding that David Cameron “ain’t no Lionel Messi”.

Willie Rennie’s position on a coalition with the SNP, however, was more black and white.

He said: “We’re prepared to work with other parties where we can agree, we’ve showed that in the last five years.

“But I don’t think it would be reasonable to put a party that’s in favour of breaking up the United Kingdom in charge of the United Kingdom. I don’t think you could really put the SNP in charge.”

Ruth Davidson echoed Mr Rennie’s comments, adding: “I promise to fight head, heart, body and soul to honour that referendum result to keep our country together and that means no deals with the people who would break up Britain.”

Jim Murphy came under pressure from the audience on his party’s position on Trident and nuclear weapons.

He replied: “I want a world free of nuclear weapons but we cannot uninvent the technology, we have to negotiate away the capability. The last Labour government did cut the number of warheads by a higher proportion than any other nation on earth.

“I don’t want just a Scotland free of nuclear weapons, I don’t think it makes much sense to just move our weapons to the north of England, I want them off the face of the planet altogether but in a world where Iran has been trying to get a nuclear bomb and North Korea is also trying, I think it’s a much safer thing to negotiate with the Americans, the French and all those other nations so that we can free not just one country but the entire planet of these weapons of mass destruction.”

The First Minister said a vote for the SNP could “shake up” Westminster but did not rule out another referendum in the future, drawing loud jeers from a section of the audience.

All four leaders bickered over the future of the economy, with Nicola Sturgeon coming under fire for promising the SNP would make no further cuts and would make ” modest” increases in spending over the next five years.

Willie Rennie said the coalition had managed to get the economy “back on track” and had done so while trying to create a “fairer society”.

Jim Murphy promised to increase the minimum wage and also establish a living wage to ensure families were lifted out of poverty.

However, Mr Murphy was criticised by Ms Sturgeon for “walking hand-in-hand” with the Tories with austerity.

Ruth Davidson slammed both Mr Murphy and Mr Rennie for distancing themselves from the Conservative’s economic policies, when both Labour and the Lib Dems had agreed to the most recent budget.

Highlights from this evening’s debate