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Live Reporting

BBC Scotland News

All times stated are UK

  1. Election 2021 Leaders' Debate: The key points

    The party leaders

    The leaders of the five larger parties faced off for the final time ahead of the Scottish Parliament election on 6 May. Here are the key points from the debate:

    • All five leaders urged caution on the return of non-essential foreign travel, with Nicola Sturgeon saying that while no decision has been taken yet, it may have to wait “a little bit longer”
    • The importance of social care was recognised but there was disagreement on the need for a national care service, with Willie Rennie saying a centralised service "would be a mistake"
    • The leaders were challenged on whether they would raise taxes to fund their spending pledges, but say they would delay any changes to the tax system during the recovery from Covid
    • Four of the five leaders dismissed the idea of a new Royal Yacht, variously descibing it as "absurd", "ludicrous" and a "cheap stunt" by Boris Johnson - but Douglas Ross says he would see what private money was available before deciding
    • There are sharp divisions over indyref2, with Nicola Sturgeon denying Douglas Ross' claims that she would hold an “illegal wildcat referendum” and Anas Sarwar insisting he does not support one
    • The debate ends on a note of consensus as the party leaders all make spending time with their families the priority as lockdown restrictions ease - with Patrick Harvie also keen to get to another beer festival
  2. Analysis

    A real flavour of what is at stake in the Scottish election

    Nick Eardley

    Political correspondent

    Tonight we got a real flavour of what’s at stake on Thursday. There are big devolved issues which the next Parliament will decide on; health, income tax, social care. There are more still there wasn’t time for tonight.

    We saw some of the caution that’s likely when it comes to pandemic easing; many of the parties urged exactly that when it comes to international travel starting up again.

    And yes, the issue that transcends so much in Scottish politics: independence. We saw pressure on Nicola Sturgeon on the specifics (a detailed case will come nearer the time of a referendum she says). On Douglas Ross on how Scots can secure another referendum if they want one (he’s fighting to stop one he says). On Anas Sarwar over whether he’ll accept the will of the next Holyrood parliament (a hint he’ll oppose indyref2 whatever the result).

    There’s a lot for voters to weigh up in the next 48 hours.

  3. Who can I vote for in my constituency?

    A magnifying glass over a map of Great Britain

    If you're unsure which parties are standing in your constituency and who the candidates are, don't worry - help is at hand.

    Follow this link and enter your postcode to see a full list.

  4. 'Extraordinary' focus on race for second place

    Lesley Riddoch
    Image caption: Author and independence campaigner Lesley Riddoch

    Broadcaster, author and independence campaigner Lesley Riddoch says none of the other parties really demonstrated why Nicola Sturgeon should not be the dominant force in Holyrood.

    Ms Riddoch says it is "extraordinary" that the towel has been so roundly thrown in by the other party leaders, who are all vying for second place.

    She argues Anas Sarwar has rehearsed his quips so well that he "seems to win the day" in the debate, but Labour are still lagging behind the Tories in the polls.

    Ms Riddoch says the "stern, unyielding" Conservative leader Douglas Ross seems to be more like what people want to stand up to Ms Sturgeon, despite Mr Sarwar coming across as more personable.

  5. 'I'm not sure tonight will have changed much'

    Political commentator Andy McIve
    Image caption: Political commentator Andy McIver

    Political commentator Andy McIver does not think tonight's debate will decide whether SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon gets a majority.

    The former head of communications for the Scottish Conservatives says that question is "real knife edge stuff" and will be decided by what happens in a variety of constituencies or regions.

    "I'm not sure tonight will have changed much."

    However, Mr McIver says Ms Sturgeon softened some of the edges around the independence argument, making it quite clear she was strongly against a wildcat referendum.

    He says it's quite clear in his view that there will not be an indyref2 before 2023.

  6. Analysis

    'Hidden divisions' illustrated by debate

    Professor Sir John Curtice

    Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University

    I would give Anas Sarwar the prize again this evening for being the master of the quip – he has demonstrated that throughout these debates.

    But I'm not sure anyone’s minds would have been changed by what they heard tonight.

    If somebody were to land from Mars tomorrow and was given a vote in the Scottish election and was wondering what to do, the debate neatly illustrated the principal themes and difficulties behind this election: whether we should be having a referendum on independence or not, and, within that, questions about the substance of independence - where the SNP begin to struggle - and then Brexit, where the Conservatives begin to struggle.

    There is still a secondary division within Scottish politics - whether you want a bigger or smaller state, whether you want more or less taxation. These are themes which we are all familiar with, but which have been largely absent in the campaign.

    But the programme illustrated there is a difference between a Tory and a Socialist, even if on the question of independence, that division has been largely hidden from view.

  7. Consensus beyond the 'constitutional rammy'

    The debate drew to a close on a consensual note about the desire to see family when the Covid-19 restrictions are limited.

    BBC Scotland political correspondent Philip Sim says all the parties have a lot in common when you look beyond the "constitutional rammy".

    View more on twitter
  8. What are you looking forward to after Covid?

    Covid poster

    The final question for the leaders is: What are you most looking forward to doing when the Covid restrictions have been lifted?

    SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon says hugging her mum, dad and “wee sister” is what she wants to do more than anything. The first minister says she wants to see businesses being able to trade properly and for people to be able to go about their daily lives again, but believes that for most people it is “that family connection” they have missed the most.

    Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie says he’s looking forward to sitting down with his parents and enjoying an evening meal with his sister and grandchildren. “Selfishly”, he also wants to take part in “a masochistic hill race somewhere”.

    As consensus breaks out, family is also at the core of the answer from Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar. "I've not hugged my granny for over a year, I've not seen my dad for well over a year," he says, adding that he is desperate to see his loved ones, as everybody across the country is.

    Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie says the last time he was in the building hosting tonight's debate was for a beer festival, and if he got the chance to go to another one he would be “in absolute heaven”. “If I know my mum and dad well enough, they would be there with me and it would be an increasingly huggy experience the more sampling we did,” he added.

    Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross is also looking forward to spending more time with family and hugging his parents, who have been unable to come into his house despite living nearby. He and his wife are also expecting their second child next month - and he’s hoping his family will be able to visit the newborn in hospital.

  9. Reality Check

    How many people pay more tax?

    Douglas Ross says there are "1.1 million people in Scotland who are taxed more for doing the same job than the rest of the UK"

    The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has crunched the numbers on this one.

    The key differences are the 19% and 21% rates either side of the basic 20% rate, as well as the extra percentage point on the higher rate and top rates of tax. The IFS said that 888,000 people would pay the 21% rate, 322,000 would pay 41% and 15,000 would pay 46%.

    That's a total of 1.2 million people paying more, which includes those people who are pulled into paying higher rates of tax because the threshold for them is lower in Scotland than it is in the rest of the UK.

    The IFS also says that taxpayers with incomes below £27,393 will pay less tax than they would in the rest of the UK. That's just over half of Scottish taxpayers. But the difference is small - no more than £20.97 this year.

  10. Would an SNP majority guarantee indyref2?

    independence campaigners

    Turning to the constitution, Douglas Ross is asked about a Conservative tweet which said an SNP majority was a guarantee of another independence referendum.

    The Scottish Conservative leader claims Nicola Sturgeon would go ahead with an illegal “wildcat” referendum, taking her “eye off the ball” when it comes to Covid recovery. Mr Ross says the prime minister would turn down a request for a referendum because the priority should be rebuilding after the pandemic.

    Ms Sturgeon insists she will not hold an “illegal wildcat referendum” if the SNP win a majority, saying she would “not countenance an illegal referendum, not least because it would not deliver independence”. The SNP leader says she will be responsible and build and ultimately win the case for independence through “patient persuasion of people across the country”.

    Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar says the Conservatives’ approach on the constitution is “a gift to the SNP” and claims Douglas Ross is “only interested in saving his skin, not saving the union”. Mr Sarwar says he does not support a referendum or independence and wants people to choose “something different” on Thursday because the first minister cannot lead a referendum campaign and the recovery at the same time.

    Willie Rennie says he doesn’t want this to be the argument for the next five years, because the people waiting an age for mental health treatment or who are desperate for a job “deserve better than this”. The Scottish Lib Dem leader says a nationalist majority will lead to more arguments and a vote for his party will allow the focus to be on the recovery.

    Patrick Harvie disagrees and insists the people of Scotland must be asked if we are best placed to achieve a fairer and more equal society and tackle climate change “as part of Boris Johnson’s Brexit Britain”. A small independent country would be better placed to tackle the “incredible challenges” Scotland faces, adds the Scottish Green co-leader.

  11. Analysis

    There are big issues at stake in the election

    Nick Eardley

    Political correspondent

    Scottish Parliament

    This debate is a reminder that there are big issues at stake on Thursday – not just the constitution and independence.

    Many people will have the pandemic recovery on their mind – we’ve had hints tonight that Scotland could move slower than England when it comes to international travel.

    It’s also a reminder that the Scottish Parliament controls how much income tax people pay in Scotland. The parties aren’t looking at changes - apart from the Conservatives, who think Scotland should be brought back into line with UK rates.

    This is an election about devolved powers – as well as whether Scotland should have more through independence.

  12. Are you in favour of a new Royal Yacht?

    Glenn Campbell says there have been reports that Boris Johnson will announce a new Royal Yacht, costing £200m, that will be named HMS Prince Philip. He asks the politicians if they are in favour.

    Patrick Harvie says prioritising a new Royal Yacht is “an absurdity” at a time when families are relying on foodbanks “beggars belief”. The Green co-leader says: “I’m not sure I can find a polite, broadcastable word to describe the arrogance of that."

    Willie Rennie says he can “probably think of 500 other things” to spend £200m on and it is a “ludicrous idea which will never happen”. The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader labels it as one of Boris Johnson’s “tricks” to try to attract attention.

    Nicola Sturgeon says this is a" ludicrous idea" and the only reason the prime minister is talking about this is to try and distract attention from the "sleaze that is swirling around him and his government". The SNP leader adds: “It is another reason why Boris Johnson should not be the guy who is making decisions about Scotland."

    Anas Sarwar says the idea is “clearly a cheap stunt”, which is “all the Conservatives have left”. The Scottish Labour leader says if there is £200m going, “let’s put that into businesses, to keep them going and keep people in jobs”.

    Douglas Ross says he understands private investment would be sought to build such a yacht. The Scottish Conservative leader says he would wait and see what private money was available before making up his mind – but he wouldn’t support public money being used for the project.

  13. 'Hands up' - leaders asked about tax plans

    Party leaders

    In a change of pace, the party leaders are asked to put their hands up if they have no fixed plans to increase income tax.

    Douglas Ross, Anas Sarwar, Nicola Sturgeon and Willie Rennie raise their hands, while Patrick Harvie says his party takes the view that this is not the time to do it.

    Nicola Sturgeon says the issue is "more complicated" than hands up or hands down, and asks "can we not have a proper debate?" She says that given the economy will be recovering from the Covid pandemic, tax stability really matters and states: “We have no plans to raise tax in the next parliament”. The SNP leader says that based on assumptions made about growth and tax revenues, the SNP’s manifesto commitments can be funded - and that it is important to invest for the future and the transition to net-zero carbon emissions.

    Douglas Ross attacks the SNP, claiming its manifesto is “uncosted” and that it isn’t being “honest” with the public. He says the priority is Covid recovery, but by the end of the parliament he would like to see parity in the tax system. The Scottish Conservative leader says 1.1 million people in Scotland are paying more tax than they would if they lived south of the border.

    Anas Sarwar says Douglas Ross would rather give himself a tax-cut, rather than people across the country, and says Labour do want to raise tax by taxing online giants like Amazon. The Scottish Labour leader says he still supports the principle of a more progressive tax system. However, the presumption would be to not increase income taxes through the course of the recovery and thereafter raise income tax on those earning more than £150,000.

    Willie Rennie says his party have an “aspiration” towards a universal basic income but the priority for the next parliament will be to put the recovery from Covid first and invest in more mental health services and 3,500 more teachers, as well as a youth jobs guarantee. The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader insists this could all be done within the medium term financial strategy already set out by the Scottish government.

    Patrick Harvie says most people recognise that the recovery phase from Covid is a chance to create a fairer and greener Scotland. The Greens' co-leader says the focus shouldn’t just be on income tax – he wants a reform of council tax to create a “fairer wealth tax”. He says all the main political parties have agreed there needs to be a deep look at all aspects to taxation not just to create investment, but also a fairer distribution of wealth.

  14. Analysis

    'A real divergence' over social care

    Andrew Kerr

    Scottish political correspondent

    It’s the big issue that affects all of us or our families - how we provide care. There’s a real divergence with the parties here. Three out of the five support a new National Care Service.

    It’s a key part of the SNP manifesto - and Nicola Sturgeon said the pandemic shone a light into the system.

    Questioned why a global pandemic had forced the issue, Ms Sturgeon said a number of reforms had been put in place already but wanted now to see consistent, national standards moving to a structure of ownership not based on profit.

    The national care service is also backed by Labour - with Anas Sarwar saying he was being frank in pointing out it wouldn’t be getting into public hands overnight.

    The Greens’ Patrick Harvie said that eventually there should be a non-profit and default public sector expectation. It’s fair to say they take the strongest line on this.

    Douglas Ross of the Conservatives questioned the criticism of private providers. The Tories are not convinced by a new national service as they’re wary of unnecessary reform but he did say he would keep looking at the issue.

    The Liberal Democrats share that scepticism. Willie Rennie said he didn’t want to repeat the mistakes of the centralisation of the police - but invest in the skills and talent of staff. He warned that a sticking-plaster approach didn’t deal with the fundamental problems in the care service.

    Whatever approach is taken - the voters are watching - and worrying about the issue.

  15. Question two: National care service

    party leaders

    The second question for the party leaders is on the subject of social care. Glenn Campbell asks what a national care service would do?

    Labour leader Anas Sarwar says national standards and a human rights approach much be applied to social care, along with more investment in the workforce. He says it won’t be possible to get social care entirely into public hands overnight – there will have to be a “partnership between the public service, the voluntary sector and also the private sector”.

    Conservative leader Douglas Ross says all the staff in the care sector must be recognised as going “above and beyond” under some of the most difficult circumstances. On pay, he says we must look at what care staff are asking for and see what is achievable, as there is a “looming economic crisis” as we come out of the pandemic.

    Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie says his party agree on the need for an increase in the carers’ allowance and the grant for unpaid carers. The issue exposes the “historic under-valuing of care work” which is ”critical to people’s wellbeing", and he believes the “default” expectation should be that the public sector runs the care sector.

    SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon says the pandemic has undoubtedly shone a light on the strength of our care system, but also the fragilities of it. We must be bold about the legacy we want to see come out of this pandemic, and a national care service should be one of these ambitions, argues the SNP leader.

    Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie says his party is very wary about a national care service as he does not want to repeat the mistakes of the centralisation of the police. He says we need to invest in the skills and talents of the staff in the sector and avoid a centralised service, as that would be a mistake.

  16. Analysis

    Last chance for the party leaders to deliver their message

    Nick Eardley

    Political correspondent

    The last few days of an election are about hammering home key messages.

    You can expect that tonight; each of the five leaders want to remind you of their central themes. It’s also about turnout, which could be more important than ever in this pandemic election.

    Can the SNP persuade their supporters to come out, giving them more of a chance of achieving the majority they want?

    You can expect to hear the other parties talk a lot about the regional ballot vote tonight; it will be crucial in the race for second place between the Conservatives and Labour, as well as for the fortunes of the Greens and Lib Dems.

    This has been a strange election. Political reporters like me have missed the big events, the public interactions that produce colour and the odd confrontation too. There hasn’t been as much canvassing, no street stalls, no big rallies.

    That makes these televised debates even more important to the parties. One final chance to win you over.

  17. Debate begins with question on lockdown easing

    Glenn Campbell

    BBC Scotland political editor Glenn Campbell kicks off the leaders debate with his first question, on easing lockdown rules.

    He asks: Should people be able to go abroad on holiday from 17 May?

    Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross says people are understandably still concerned about bringing the virus back into the UK. He urges caution and says “let’s have staycations in Scotland, let’s look at what we have on our own shores”.

    Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie worries that we might get back to the situation of last summer, when a second wave of cases occurred as a result of importation of new cases. He says that while the rest of the world is still waiting to vaccinated, the risk of importing new, potentially more dangerous, remains high, and international travel will have to be one of the last things to be lifted.

    SNP leader Nicola Sturgon says a decision hasn’t yet been taken on foreign travel - but it is one of the first decisions a first minister will be taking next week. She says she wants to get international travel back to normal as much as she want other aspects of our lives back to normal, but says it may have to wait “a little bit longer”.

    Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, says in an ideal situation he would like to see a consistent approach across the UK, but adds we should not be afraid to do things differently in Scotland if that is the right thing to do. Mr Sarwar adds that the big frustration for the tourism and aviation industries has been the lack of communication, and he calls for them to be given a clear route map.

    Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie maintains caution should be the watchword, with lessons learnt from the mistakes of last year, when travel restrictions were eased “too quickly”. We need consistency across the UK if possible, Mr Rennie adds, and need to recognise that other countries have not been as fast as the UK in rolling out a vaccine programme.

  18. Analysis

    How cranky will the leaders be during this debate?

    Andrew Kerr

    Scottish political correspondent

    How cranky will the politicians be with each other in this leaders’ debate?

    Each of these set-piece events has had a different tone and feel to it. The first BBC debate – away back at the beginning of the campaign – was quite calm.

    There was a new cast list – Douglas Ross from the Conservatives, Anas Sarwar from Labour and Lorna Slater from the Greens were on stage for the first time with their fellow performers.

    The SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon and Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats are old hands, having toured the halls and venues of Scotland with their leader debate shows.

    The new gang took a while to find their feet, with no audience – but it got a bit more lively towards the end.

    For the STV debate further into the campaign they loosened up a bit. Allowed to question each other, they weren’t shy in putting their points forward. The new team had bonded.

    By the time it got to the Channel 4 debate last week, it felt as though they were pretty tired and fed-up of each other.

    It got cranky. Douglas Ross and Nicola Sturgeon were arguing, while Anas Sarwar tried to join in from the sidelines. It felt as if the pressures of the campaign were showing.

    We’re nearer polling day now and the focus in this BBC debate will be on key messages. It might return to being a little more restrained as the end is now in sight – or they might want to vent at each other. Tune in to see.

  19. Salmond calls on SNP supporters to vote Alba on regional list

    Alex Salmond

    Alba leader Alex Salmond insists his party has helped support for independence because they have put it “front and centre” of the election campaign.

    Mr Salmond told BBC Scotland's The Campaign programme that his party had brought an "injection of vim and vigour" which will "hopefully" be rewarded in Thursday's election.

    If the Scottish Parliament begin negotiations with Westminster over a second independence referendum immediately after the election, Scotland could be an independent country in a little over four years, Mr Salmond claimed.

    In the years before the first indyref, Mr Salmond said support for independence was only at around 28-30%, but there is a now a " very substantial argument" that support for independence is "ahead of the politicians".

    Quote Message: Instead of wasting their vote, if even a quarter of SNP voters switch to Alba on the regional list, then there will be a barrowload of Alba MSPs elected this week." from Alex Salmond Alba Party leader
    Alex SalmondAlba Party leader

    You can read more about the Alba Party's policies here.

  20. 'We're fundamentally about common sense' - Reform UK

    Michelle Ballantyne

    Michelle Ballantyne of Reform UK said her party understood that decisions should be taken close to the people, and that the devolved parliament in Scotland could be a positive thing.

    She said Reform UK's approach was "fundamentally about common sense".

    The party began its life as the Brexit party, and Ms Ballantyne was elected to Holyrood as a Conservative MSP in 2015.

    Reform UK's policies include scrapping the Curriculum for Excellence, opposition to further lockdowns and getting rid of a number of taxes with the aim of stimulating the economy.

    Quote Message: What we are concerned about is the move away from integrity and common sense, the move away from policies that have a positive difference, that improve our education system, that increase the benefits to health and address the issues we have in Scotland, such as our drugs problem." from Michelle Ballantyne Reform UK
    Michelle BallantyneReform UK

    You can read more about Reform UK's policies here