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by Louise Wilson
14 April 2021
Party leaders clash over COVID recovery priorities in leaders’ debate


Party leaders clash over COVID recovery priorities in leaders’ debate

Recovery from the COVID-19 crisis was a key topic at last night’s STV leaders’ debate.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted her party would provide “strong leadership” and “transformational” policies to drive recovery, including a referendum on Scottish independence.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the best way to recover was to use the “strong foundations of the UK”.

And Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar urged people to “focus on what unites us as a country, not what divides us”.

Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie, who also supports a second independence referendum, called for a “fair and green recovery”, while Scottish Lib Dem leader said it was important to “put recovery first”.

The five party leaders were taking part in the second televised leaders debate of the campaign ahead of the election on 6 May.

Postal votes will begin arriving for the 23.8 per cent of the electorate who registered for them this week.

The political parties are set to launch their manifestos over the next week.

Sturgeon said her party’s key pledges will include a jobs guarantee for young people, the creation of a National Care Service and building 100,000 more affordable homes.

She said: “In asking you to re-elect me as First Minister, I promise you this: continued strong leadership to steer the country through the pandemic and a transformational policy programme to kickstart and drive recovery.”

She added: “This election will determine, ultimately, who decides that future – those of us who live here or Westminster politicians like Boris Johnson.

“By giving both votes to the SNP, you will secure leadership through COVID, a plan for recovery and, when the crisis is over, the choice of a better future with independence.”

But Ross insisted another “divisive” referendum would prevent progress in other areas.

He said his party would instead focus on increasing the number of police officers, improving broadband and restoring local schools.

He said: “We can recover from COVID using the strong foundations of the United Kingdom. We can tackle the looming economic crisis.

“But we won’t manage any of that if the SNP get a majority and hold another divisive referendum.”

Sarwar called for an end to the “old arguments” which were “obsessed with egos and settling scores” and instead for a focus on recovery.

He also backed a jobs guarantee for young people and restoring education, as well as an NHS recovery plan to tackle mounting problems like mental health issues and cancer.

He said: “A national recovery can’t just be a slogan. It must be our collective national mission… We can do this, but only if we are willing.

“We all love Scotland.  So let’s choose to come through this and build a stronger and fairer nation together.”

Meanwhile, Harvie warned this could be the “last election before the climate crisis spirals out of control”.

He called for a series of policies to invest in renewables, support public transport and restore nature, which he said could also create 100,000 green jobs to support COVID recovery.

He said: “The Scottish Greens recognise that this is an election where our future is at stake. We need to act now.

“We already have the technology and the talent we need here in Scotland to secure our common future.”

Rennie said it was important to “put old divisions behind us”, adding it was “not the time” for an independence referendum.

He said his party would seek to reduce mental health waiting times, ensure schools could get pupils back on track and create new jobs.

He said: “It’s a big programme that will require us to work together across the country, because we will need the skills and talents of everyone to succeed.

“We need members of the Scottish Parliament who can build bridges and unite people.”

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