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Five key exchanges from the BBC Question Time election special

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The BBC Question Time election special debate saw party leader and deputes clash over the usual hot topics like independence and the pandemic recovery.

Ahead of the Holyrood poll, Keith Brown of the SNP, Scottish Labour’s Anas Sarwar, Scottish Conservatives’ Douglass Ross, Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater and Scottish Lib Dems leader Willie Rennie put forward their party’s views to the public. 

Here are five key exchanges from the special. 

1. Second independence referendum 

The politicians were split over a second referendum, with SNP’s Keith Brown and Greens’ Lorna Slater supporting independence as necessary to take Scotland out of the pandemic. 

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The SNP deputy leader said a second referendum would be a chance for Scotland to make its own decision and decide its own path to recovery. 

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross said his priority was to stop the SNP from securing a majority and holding the  referendum, citing the need for the next government to focus on recovery. 

READ MORE: Record wait for Holyrood election results expected

He said he is concerned another SNP government would hold a “wildcat, illegal referendum” rather than protecting jobs and rebuilding the NHS.

Lib-Dems leader Willie Rennie accused the SNP and the Scottish Conservatives of dividing the country by fighting over independence. 

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Labour Leader Anas Sarwar accused them of looking at independence as a “light-switch moment” and feeding off division, and encouraged them to set aside the fight. He stressed this is not an ordinary election and called for voters to “choose something different.”

2. Pandemic recovery 

Anas Sarwar said Labour has plans to start the recovery immediately. He said there are “billions of pounds” accessible to spend on the economy: “We cannot wait for the pandemic to end, I want to start spending that money now.”

Willie Rennie said Lib Dems would commit £1bn of extra spending to employ extra teachers, mental health services, the NHS and increasing social workers wages. “Everything we promise is affordable and deliverable, we are not going to overpromise,” he said.

Lorna Slater said the Greens will have to see how willing the UK would be to work on a joint recovery

3. Healthcare 

Willie Rennie criticised FM Nicola Sturgeon for “taking her eye off the ball” on drug deaths, and suggested a government focused on independence would not solve the health inequalities affecting Scotland.  

He focused on the country’s “mental health problem” and the need to train more experts “to reduce the demand on the NHS”. 

“We’ve got a mountain of mental health needs, we’ve got a mountain of people who are waiting for their operations, their appointments,” he said.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon: Why is First Minister not on BBC Question Time?

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Quizzed about the smaller increase in funding promised by the SNP, compared to the UK Government, Keith Brown said the party had additional expenses allocated to mental health and disputed Westminster’s numbers. 

Anas Sarwar said “changing the way we do healthcare” would be key in facing the issues brought by the pandemic. He pledged investment in social care, rapid diagnosis centres and mental health services. 

Douglas Ross said NHS staff have gone “above and beyond over the last year”. When questioned on previously refusing to back a 4% increase in staff pay proposed by the SNP, he said he absolutely supports it: “we have to support NHS and staff as the next year is still going to be difficult.” 

Lorna Slater said “alleviating poverty” would be the priority to lift the pressure off the NHS and address issues like bed-blocking and chronic health problems caused by inequality. 

4. Climate Change 

Lorna Slater took control of the debate around climate change. She said the decline of the oil and gas industry, while necessary, will not mean workers will be forgotten and they “will be welcome” to join the renewable sector. 

“The oil and gas industry will decline but that does not mean that we have to inflict hardship upon the people who work in that industry,” she added. 

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She stressed, unlike the SNP, the Greens are making the green recovery their first priority. 

She admitted that, even without independence, Greens would be able to do more to tackle the climate emergency. 

READ MORE: SNP to miss majority at Holyrood election and support for Scottish independence dips, latest polls show

Pressed about a timeframe for decarbonising Scotland, SNP’s Keith Brown was unable to provide a target, while Douglas Ross also pledged to protect oil industry jobs. 

Anas Sarwar called for investment in renewable jobs as a first step in the transition. For Willie Rennie, the first step would be converting domestic supply to renewable energy to reduce demand of fossil fuel.

5. Taxes 

Anas Sarwar called for taxes to be imposed on tech giants like Amazon, to redistribute to small businesses and revive the high street.

Lorna Slater also underlined the need for taxing big corporations which would increase government’s income without taking money out of ordinary people’s pockets. 

Douglas Ross said: “Scottish Conservatives plans are the most generous”. He pledged investments in the NHS, social housing, full-fibre broadband and the education and said he would “love” to give tax cuts if possible.

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