11 June 2024

Austerity dominates clashes between leaders in Scotland in live TV showdown

11 June 2024

Clashes over economics and austerity dominated as Scotland’s political leaders went head to head in a live TV showdown.

Anas Sarwar came under fire from First Minister John Swinney, who repeatedly claimed that a Labour government would “prolong” the austerity agenda that has been imposed by the Conservatives.

That was denied by the Scottish Labour leader, with Mr Sarwar telling his SNP rival: “Read my lips. No austerity under Labour.”

In 23 days' time the Tories could be gone if people vote Labour

Complaining about the “carnage the Conservatives have imposed on this country and the state of the public finances”, Mr Sarwar went on to say that the election was a chance to oust the Tories from power.

Speaking during a BBC Scotland Debate Night leaders special, the Scottish Labour leader added: “In 23 days’ time the choice the people in this country have is they can wake up to five more years of Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Suella Braverman and Jacob Rees-Mogg, or we can get rid of the whole sleazy lot of them and elect a Labour government.”

He told the audience in Glasgow: “In 23 days’ time the Tories could be gone if people vote Labour.

“They could be gone, and we can start changing our country.”

But Mr Swinney said while the Conservatives would be removed from power “they will be replaced by an austerity-wielding Labour government”.

The SNP leader accused both the Tories and Labour of having a “determination to keep austerity going”.

He added: “That is the reality people are facing in this election – austerity from the Tories or austerity from the Labour Party.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross meanwhile attacked the SNP leader over his party’s support for independence, claiming: “We can have a better future for Scotland if the SNP are beaten at this election and end their obsession with independence.”

He hit out at the SNP “obsession” with leaving the UK, claiming Mr Swinney’s party put “independence above everything else” and adding that “Scotland will suffer as a result of that”.

The SNP leader insisted: “People in this country have a democratic right to decide if they wish to be independent.”

And he said even if the SNP lost in the election the party would continue to make the case for leaving the UK.

If we accept a continuation of the UK Government in Scotland we are signing up to more austerity

“The SNP is a party which believes in Scottish independence,” Mr Swinney said.

“If we accept a continuation of the UK Government in Scotland we are signing up to more austerity.”

Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater agreed independence would still be a key issue in Scottish politics after the election, whatever the result, saying the constitutional question would “not be off the table”.

The hour-long debate also saw Mr Swinney apologise to a woman whose 93-year-old mother waited six hours for an ambulance last week.

A member of the audience told the story, asking the five political leaders if the NHS was “broken”.

Responding directly, the First Minister said: “I’m very sorry that your mum had that experience, that shouldn’t have been the case.”

But he said the NHS was under “acute pressure” as a result of growing demand for services.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton meanwhile said he was “always smiling” because Liberal Democrats love serving the community.

In the next parliament we'll be working for a better Britain, to restore your faith in politics and fix our broken relationship with Europe

He said: “People ask me why I’m always smiling – why, when politics is such a serious business the Liberal Democrats seem to enjoy it so much.

“Well, the simple reason is we love what we do. Serving our communities is why we get up in the morning.

“In the next parliament we’ll be working for a better Britain, to restore your faith in politics and fix our broken relationship with Europe.”

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