Scotland politics

Scottish election: Party leaders in final debate

L to R Tavish Scott, Annabel Goldie, Alex Salmond and Iain Gray
Image caption The four main party leaders taking part in the final televised debate before the election

The leaders of Scotland's main political parties have taken part in a final TV hustings before polling day.

The live STV debate featured the SNP's Alex Salmond, the Lib Dems' Tavish Scott, the Tories' Annabel Goldie and Labour's Iain Gray.

Ahead of the programme, the broadcaster published its poll suggesting the SNP would win 61 seats with nearest rivals, Labour, on 33.

There is one day of campaigning left before the Scottish electorate vote.

During the 90-minute debate, the four leaders answered questions on a range of subjects including pensions, jobs, knife crime, pay, public sector cuts and independence.

To begin, the three men and one woman were asked to react to the STV poll which was conducted by TNS-BRMB.

Labour's Mr Gray said that the only poll that mattered was the "one taking place on Thursday". He added that the one interesting conclusion of the survey, and others like it, was that a "very significant number" of voters had not yet made up their minds.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Mr Scott said the election still had a long way to go and he agreed with Mr Gray that many people had not made a final decision. He added that there was still "quite a lot to do" and it was possible that all the polls so far could be wrong.

The Conservative's Miss Goldie said she was "encouraged" by the poll's findings which put her party on 18 seats. She conceded she would not become first minister after Thursday's election but it was key that she was in Holyrood to "put the clamps" on whoever would become first minister.

The SNP's Mr Salmond emphasised that the "real poll was on Thursday", but he added that the STV's findings proved that people had had enough of the "negativity and scaremongering" of the other parties.

The survey was conducted between 26 April and 2 May and involved 1,063 adults aged 18 and over who were interviewed in 55 constituencies across Scotland.

The panel was asked about an independence referendum to which Mr Scott admitted that recent poll findings showed that "we were closer to independence". But he added that creating jobs and protecting services was more important than the independence question.

Miss Goldie also dismissed the importance of a referendum on the matter, adding that she was not in politics to "promote independence".

Protest held

Mr Salmond, whose party wants independence, said it was right to give the people of Scotland the right to decide whether their country should be independent.

Before the audience gathered at the National Piping Centre in Glasgow, Mr Gray said a referendum on independence would be a distraction and would create uncertainty at a time when efforts should be made to rebuild the economy.

Before host Bernard Ponsonby wound up the debate, the four leaders were asked about pay and public sector cuts.

Miss Goldie said it was important to "tell it as it is" when it comes to cutting the country's debt.

Mr Gray and Mr Salmond both said protecting the NHS was vital, but they argued about who was best placed to do the job.

And Mr Scott said he would cut the pay of top earning public sector workers because it was important to sort out the country's debt and not leave it to the next generation.

Before the debate a group of 24 protesters gathered outside the National Piping Centre.

Holding banners and placards they chanted "No to cuts" and "When they say cut back, we say fight back" as they waited for the leaders to arrive.

Sean Clerkin, Citizens United Against Public Service Cuts, who organised the demonstration, said: "We are here today to say to the politicians of all the major parties they should be using the Scottish Parliament as a vehicle to fight the Westminster coalition cuts, not to implement them."

Voters go to the polls to elect their MSPs on 5 May.

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