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Scottish party leaders clash with Nicola Sturgeon on independence

Nicola Sturgeon last night faced a backlash over her never-ending focus on independence despite the prospect of a gruelling coronavirus recovery.

In the final televised debate of the election campaign, opposition leaders warned of the threat of five more years of arguments on splitting up the United Kingdom if there is a pro-independence majority after tomorrow’s election.

The First Minister was warned by the Conservatives leader Douglas Ross that she could not properly conduct a referendum campaign while being in charge of the recovery from coronavirus.

Nicola Sturgeon has been clear. If she gets a majority, she’ll take her eye off the ball for Scotland’s recovery, for rebuilding this country from this pandemic and seek to hold another independence referendum,’ he said.

In a tense back and forth the 38-year-old, who became Tory leader last year, claimed that even if Boris Johnson was forced to reject a referendum request from an SNP government then Ms Sturgeon would try hold her own ‘illegal wildcat referendum’.

Nicola Sturgeon last night faced a grilling from Scottish party leaders over her never-ending focus on independence despite the prospect of a gruelling coronavirus recovery

The SNP leader rejected the accusation, saying: ‘No we won’t. I’ve always said that, Douglas.’ 

‘I’ve said consistently all along, sometimes to criticism from people in my own side of the argument, I would not countenance an illegal referendum – not least because it would not deliver independence and I want Scotland in the fullness of time and due course to become an independent country.’

Ms Sturgeon was also criticised for failing to have answers to ‘basic questions’ about her plan to tear Scotland out of the UK.

The leaders also clashed on tax policies, with Miss Sturgeon refusing to rule out income tax rises in the next five years despite her manifesto pledge to freeze rates and bands.

Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: ‘You can’t lead a referendum campaign and lead the recovery at the same time, it is simply not credible.’

In a tense back and forth, the First Minister was warned by the Conservatives leader Douglas Ross that she could not properly conduct a referendum campaign while being in charge of the recovery from coronavirus

In a tense back and forth, the First Minister was warned by the Conservatives leader Douglas Ross that she could not properly conduct a referendum campaign while being in charge of the recovery from coronavirus

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: ‘I don’t want this to be the argument for the next five years, I do want to focus on recovery.

‘Because the people who are waiting an age for mental health treatment I think deserve better than this.

‘People that are desperate for a job deserve better than this. The children who have lost out on a lot of education in the last period, and Scottish education plummeting the inter-national ranking, I think we deserve better than all of this. And that is what will happen if we get a Nationalist majority later on this week.

‘Because despite Nicola’s best intentions, there will be all the different factions of the nationalism movement will argue among themselves for the next five years about the timing, about the Border, about the currency, about Europe. All of those things will be the focus of the parliament for the next five years.’

Miss Sturgeon also failed to say how long an independent Scotland would use the pound under her currency plans.

Miss Sturgeon also failed to say how long an independent Scotland would use the pound under her currency plans

Miss Sturgeon also failed to say how long an independent Scotland would use the pound under her currency plans

She said a separate Scotland would use the pound for ‘as long as necessary’ before switching to a new currency when the conditions are right.

When asked how long that would take, she said: ‘Not absolutely fixed, we would have to judge that. The Growth Commission set out tests based on economic stability, trading cycle, fiscal position, the interests of consumers.

‘But can I make this fundamental point right now. We are voting in a Scottish parliament election on Thursday, we are not voting yes or no for independence.

‘I want, once the crisis has passed and we are into recovery, for us to be able to choose our own future.

‘At that point, just as happened in 2014, what didn’t happen in the Brexit referendum, we will put forward a case for independence. The others here will no doubt put forward a case against independence. And people will have the right to choose.’

Presenter Glenn Campbell asked what would happen if an independent Scotland faced another crisis, pandemic or financial collapse while it was using somebody else’s currency and did not have its own central bank. Miss Sturgeon said: ‘We would borrow money the way other countries borrow money.’

A Survation poll found that 53 per cent would vote 'no' in an independence referendum - down two points on a week earlier

A Survation poll found that 53 per cent would vote ‘no’ in an independence referendum – down two points on a week earlier

Scottish party leaders clash with Nicola Sturgeon on independence

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said: ‘Nicola Sturgeon has said tonight she has supported independence her whole life.

‘I would then think you would be able to answer a pretty basic question about currency if you were to separate Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom. But you haven’t answered it.

‘This is the problem – if the SNP get a majority and go unchecked in the next parliament, this will be the debate we have in Scotland, not the debate about recovery.’ 

Ms Sturgeon also failed to rule out income tax rises, saying she does not support an increase but would admit ‘unforeseen circumstances’ such as cuts to the block grant may necessitate such a move.

She said: ‘For the next parliament, given that we are going to be recovering economically from Covid, tax stability really matters. And, therefore, we have no plans to increase income tax.’

Mr Ross’ party has also said it wants to bring taxes in Scotland back into line with the rest of the UK, but claims this would only happen towards the end of the parliamentary term, if the economic outlook allows.

‘I am not saying this is a cast-iron commitment,’ the Conservative said.

‘But our pledge is to seek parity in the tax system, for 1.1 million people in Scotland who are taxed more for doing the exact same job than they are in the rest of the United Kingdom.’

Mr Sarwar, who has also said he is against a tax rise but would want to see such a move for those earning at least £150,000 per year in the first instance, accused the Tory leader of wanting to give himself a tax cut – to Mr Ross’ protestations.

‘What Douglas is trying to say… is he would give himself a tax cut rather than people across the country.’

Mr Ross is already an MP, and is seeking to become an MSP, as well as being the leader of the Scottish Tories.

‘You want to give yourself a tax cut for perhaps all three salaries you want to earn,’ Mr Sarwar told him.

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