NICOLA Sturgeon was voted the winner of the seven-way, UK-wide leaders debate in a snap opinion poll minutes after the two-hour marathon ended.
The SNP leader was rated the best performer by 28 per cent of those who took part in the YouGov poll.
Ukip’s Nigel Farage came second with 20 per cent, David Cameron third on 18 per cent, Ed Miliband fourth on ten per cent, with the Greens’ Natalie Bennett on five per cent and Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood on four.
Ms Sturgeon delivered a strong anti-austerity message.
And in her closing statement, she said the choice was clear: “You can vote for the same old parties and get the same old politics – more cuts and more misguided priorities; or you can vote for something different, better and more progressive.”
Another poll, by ICM, made Mr Miliband the winner by 25 per cent to Mr Cameron’s 24, with Mr Farage on 19 and Ms Sturgeon on 17.
You can vote for the same old parties and get the same old politics – more cuts and more misguided priorities; or you can vote for something different, better and more progressive.”Nicola Sturgeon
And a third poll, by ComRes, showed Messrs Cameron and Miliband equal on 21 per cent, just narrowly ahead of Ms Sturgeon on 20 per cent.
Labour said Mr Cameron – who has refused a one-to-one debate with Mr Miliband – had chosen the debate format but for large sections had been “the invisible man”.
The Tories replied that Mr Cameron had not been drawn into the scrapping.
The party leaders debated a range of questions from the audience on the economy, the NHS, immigration and the prospects for young people.
Mr Miliband said if he was prime minister he would raise the minimum wage, ban exploitative zero-hours contracts and “rescue our NHS”.
Mr Cameron told viewers: “Here’s what Ed Miliband isn’t telling you, [he] wants to put up taxes and cut your pay, going into your monthly pay slip at the end of the month and taking your money out because he thinks he can spend your money better than you.”
Mr Clegg directly challenged the Tory leader over his decision not to ask the richest to pay more towards deficit reduction, but instead to impose “ideologically-driven cuts”.
But Ms Sturgeon said Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron had been “hand in glove in imposing austerity”.
She said the major UK parties were offering “more cuts and more misguided priorities”.
Mr Farage said there were “massive savings” to be made for public services by cutting foreign aid. But Ms Bennett said that would increase aid spending from 0.7 per cent to one per cent of GDP “because we need a more stable world, and that means tackling hunger and disease”.
Mr Miliband said Labour would reduce the deficit every year, adding: “Cuts will have to come, but we can do it in a balanced way and a fair way.”
Mr Cameron accused the Labour leader of planning more debt, taxes, borrowing and spending, and urged voters to let the Conservatives complete their “long-term economic plan.
Mr Farage said English voters were “cheesed off” with so much of their money “going over Hadrian’s Wall” and called for Scotland’s funding to be cut.
He also raised the issue of “health tourism” and complained about foreign nationals receiving HIV treatment on the NHS, but was ticked off by Ms Wood, who accused him of “scaremongering” and said he should be ashamed of himself.
The SNP said it had gained more than 1200 new members over the course of the debate, reflecting “the energy and optimism which underpins our election campaign”.
No fears over finance ‘gap’
Full fiscal autonomy would only leave a “theoretical gap” in Scotland’s finances, according to city SNP candidate Tommy Sheppard.
The founder of The Stand Comedy Club, who is standing in Edinburgh East, said governments “always have gaps between income and expenditure” but a fiscally autonomous Scotland could close the gap quickly if it got “stuck in”.
Campaigning for votes in Portobello High Street, he said: “Governments always have gaps between income and expenditure, that’s why they borrow, and if you have got the full economic powers that even a state government might expect to have then you are able to do that and it’s really not a problem.”
SNP’s plans are ‘disaster’
Scottish Labour deputy leader and Lothian MSP Kezia Dugdale has claimed the SNP’s plan for full fiscal autonomy for Scotland would be a disaster for public services.
She said the move would impose an extra £7.6 billion worth of cuts in Scotland.
But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “The only cuts on the horizon for Scotland are the £30 billion cuts the Tories have proposed and Labour have signed up to. Scotland’s share of that would be £2.4bn.”
Registered voters down
The number of registered voters in Scotland has dropped by more than 145,000 from the high point just before the independence referendum, A total of 4,138,345 are now registered to vote here.
Willie’s not sheepish on election trail
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie tried his hand at feeding a lamb when he joined Edinburgh West Lib Dem candidate Mike Crockart on a campaign visit to a farm.
The two men met staff and customers at Craigie’s Farm deli, at West Craigie Farm, South Queensferry, which has recently announced plans to extend its shop and cafe operation.
Mr Rennie said: “Business needs the Liberal Democrats influencing government to keep the economy on the straight path to recovery.
“If the Conservative lurch to the right happens then big business will not invest and small business will not grow.”