STV debate: Leaders lock horns over Brexit and indyref2

Leaders Willie Rennie, Ruth Davidson, Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale at the STV Debate. Picture: Getty Images
Leaders Willie Rennie, Ruth Davidson, Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale at the STV Debate. Picture: Getty Images
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Scotland’s political leaders have clashed in the final TV debate of the election campaign last night, with party rivals going head-to-head less than 36 hours before polls open.

Brexit and the SNP’s plans for a “divisive” second independence featured in the early exchanges in STV’s Scotland Debates programme.

First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon warned Tory MPs would end up being a “rubber stamp” for Theresa May’s proposals, including an “extreme Brexit”.

But Unionist politicians demanded she “turn away” from her plans to hold a second independence referendum in the wake of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

And Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson insisted Scots needed to elect “local champions” rather than “nationalist MPs who are more interested in division than delivering”.

Ms Sturgeon told the audience in Glasgow that the UK is facing “really big challenges over the next few years”, including Brexit and further austerity cutbacks.

She called on people to “make sure Scotland’s voice is heard in this election and our interests are to the fore”.

The SNP leader said: “We face decisions around pubic spending which will determine whether or not public spending for our health service, our education system goes up or down.

“We face decisions about social security, whether we are going to see more cuts which push children into poverty or have policies that lift young people out of poverty.

“So we really need strong voices at Westminster standing up for Scotland.”

Ms Sturgeon argued: “I think we need to see strong SNP voices because Tory MPs will be a rubber stamp for what Theresa May wants to do.”

But Ms Davidson hit back: “We elect 59 MPs from Scotland, and whether their ribbons are yellow, orange, red or blue, every single one of them will stand up for Scotland, because that will be their job.

“The SNP is not Scotland. This is about making sure you have people in your communities working with government to deliver for those communities – not nationalist MPs who are more interested in division than delivering.”

The Tory urged Ms Sturgeon to “take a referendum off the table” and instead “talk about the issues at hand, talk about the economy and education”.

Scottish labour leader Kezia Dugdale described the vote on Thursday as a chance to “get rid of a mean, miserly, incompetent Tory government”.

She also told people that a vote for her party would signal their “opposition to a second independence referendum”.

Meanwhile, Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said the election was a “chance to change the direction of the country”.

He added: “I think we should take this chance to turn away from another divisive independence referendum and to give the British people the right to reject a bad deal on Brexit.”

The heated exchanges over a second referendum followed a contribution from an audience member who urged unionist politicians to end the “broken record” and talk about policy instead of independence.