Page last updated at 13:48 GMT, Sunday, 25 April 2010 14:48 UK

Scottish political party chiefs clash in Sky TV debate

Sky TV debate
The debate was less rigid than the main prime ministerial debates

Senior Scottish figures from the main political parties have clashed on the economy in a live television debate.

SNP leader Alex Salmond and Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy went head-to-head on issues such as jobs, banking and the future of public spending.

The Tory and Lib Dem Scottish affairs spokesmen, David Mundell and Alistair Carmichael, also took part in the event, hosted by Sky TV.

Tax and civil liberties also featured in the 90-minute programme.

The debate, at The Hub in Edinburgh, was staged on the day it emerged the SNP is trying to raise £50,000 to proceed with legal action over the prime ministerial debate on BBC 1 on Thursday.

The party wants an SNP politician included "for balance".

Mr Salmond, the Scottish first minister, used Sunday's event in the capital to blame the three "London parties" for looming public spending cuts on Scotland.

'At crossroads'

Urging voters to elect local and national SNP "champions" on 6 May, he said: "The issue as this campaign reaches its climax is trying to provide an alternative to that miserable spectre of the London-based parties.

"I think that alternative is to, yes have government efficiencies and junk the things that don't matter, but to get the economy growing."

Mr Murphy presented the election as a clear choice between Gordon Brown or David Cameron as prime minister, and backed the creation of high-tech jobs for Scotland and a fair reduction of the deficit.

"We're at a crossroads," he said, adding: "We can either continue away from this recession with Labour or we can go back to the old divisions of the 1980s of the Tory party - 15% interest rates, mass unemployment - and who can ever forget the poll tax in Scotland."

But Mr Mundell accused the Scottish secretary of living and fighting "the battles of the past" and said the Tories had the right policies to support economic recovery.

He went on: "This election is about the future. It's about whether we have five more years of the same with Labour, or we have change which only the Conservatives can deliver."

Audience reaction

Mr Carmichael argued Labour and the Conservatives no longer had the election "all sewn up", as he said they had done in the past.

Appealing to disgruntled Labour voters, he said: "After 13 years, Labour has let Scotland down.

"They allowed the banks to trash our economy, they've eroded our freedoms and they sent our troops, and some to die, in an illegal war in Iraq.

"They've let you down and they take Scotland for granted."

The rules for the Scottish TV debate, hosted by Sky political editor Adam Boulton, were less rigid than those agreed for the main prime ministerial debates, with the four participants allowed to freely debate with each other.

Responding to questions from the audience on benefits, the parties said they wanted to help people on benefits back to work.

RBS
The banking crisis was one of the issues discussed

Mr Mundell hit out: "Jim Murphy and the Labour Party have had 13 years to deal with this issue. Now Jim is coming forward 13 years later to say he's going to make work pay - why didn't you do it in the last 13 years?

The Scottish secretary, who said Labour wanted to make people £2,000 better off by helping them back to work, responded to Mr Mundell: "We introduced a national minimum wage - your party fought it tooth and nail and said it would cost a million jobs.

"We introduced tax credits many of which you are now determined to restrict."

Mr Salmond weighed in, telling Mr Mundell: "It's not just Jim who's had 13 yeas in government - you've had 17 years in government before that.

"There have been decades of failure of majority Tory government and majority Labour government."

Mr Carmichael, whose party want to make the first £10,000 of earnings tax-free, said the benefits system was now so complicated that people did not know what they were due to get.

"They're given money that they claim and they take in good faith and then they're told its been overpaid and they're ending up with something as little as £10-£20 a week to feed a family," he said.

Financial sector

Later in the debate, Mr Murphy hit out at Mr Salmond, a former MP, for failing to vote in the minimum wage at Westminster, after saying he had always supported it.

Mr Murphy told him: "We sat up all night that night - the Conservatives opposed it and you went to your bed.

He added: "Alex - you slept for Scotland."

Mr Salmond replied that it was not always possible to take part in every Commons vote.

On the banking crisis, Mr Murphy warned institutions such as the Royal Bank of Scotland, bailed out by the UK government, and HBOS, whose takeover was backed by the UK chancellor, may not have survived in an independent Scotland.

Referring to previous comments by the SNP, he said: "All this talk about Iceland and Ireland and 'arcs of prosperity' - we don't hear very much about it any more."

Mr Mundell said: "If this debate had been taking place 18 months ago, Alex Salmond would have been telling us Scotland should be joining that arc of prosperity, which is now and arc of insolvency."

Bank control

Recalling Mr Salmond's previous comments that HBOS had been taken down by "spivs and speculators", he added: "It was quite clear that its economic model was entirely wrong - you can't run an economy on soundbites."

Mr Salmond sought to put blame for the banking crisis on the UK government, which controls the financial sector.

And he said the US government was publishing e-mails from investment house Goldman Sachs which showed it was deliberately "bringing down" its own funds, which cost institutions like RBS hundreds of millions of pounds.

The first minister asked: "If that action to actually destroy a financial institution to make a profit is not an example of spivs and speculators, then what on earth is?"

Mr Carmichael said he was "enormously frustrated" there was no proper control of the banks, saying they had to start lending to businesses again, adding that the country should never again be "held ransom by casino bankers".

Iraq war

On the Iraq war, Mr Carmichael accused former prime minister accused Tony Blair of systemically undermining the work of UN weapons inspector Hans Blix's work in the country, ahead of its invasion in 2003.

On civilian deaths in Iraq, the Lib Dem politician angrily told Mr Murphy: "We don't know, because your government and Tony Blair didn't even have the decency to count them."

Mr Mundell attacked Labour for initially blocking an Iraq inquiry, adding: "One of the main reasons for that was the evidence Gordon Brown gave to that inquiry that, during the period of the Iraq war, Labour cut our defence spending."

Mr Salmond hit out at Mr Mundell for supporting the war, and asked the Scottish secretary: "How can you Jim, after we now know there weren't weapons of mass destruction, with that knowledge, how can you still justify an illegal invasion of a country which cost innumerable lives?"

The Scottish secretary said the UN thought the then leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but added: "Its clear now there was a mistake.

"There were no weapons of mass destruction, but in all good faith, we took a decision which was to try to liberate Iraq from a tyrant we believed had weapons of mass destruction."



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