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Last Updated: Monday, 30 April 2007, 06:42 GMT 07:42 UK
Leaders admit that 'Iraq matters'
party leaders
The four main leaders, together before 3 May poll
Scotland's four main party leaders have all admitted that the electorate will take Iraq into account when they cast their votes on 3 May.

But during BBC Scotland's leaders' debate on Sunday, Labour's Jack McConnell pleaded with the public not to let the issue cloud their judgement.

The Tories' Annabel Goldie and the Lib Dems' Nicol Stephen said Westminster issues would play their part.

The SNP's Alex Salmond said it was the public's right to consider all issues.

The debate at the University of Aberdeen's Elphinstone Hall took place four days before voters go the polls to elect their MSPs and local councillors.

The members of the 115-strong audience quizzed the politicians on the issues of Iraq, private finance initiatives and independence.

Mr McConnell told those gathered that he had no regrets over the removal of Saddam Hussein, and believed British troops should come home in an orderly and organised fashion.

He said: "But while I also think that people have very strong views on this, and I understand that - and it will be a factor in some people's choice on Thursday - I think it's vitally important that one particular issue does not cloud our views on the economic importance of the 300-year-old Union.

"Nor, for that matter, the priorities of the Scottish Parliament over the next four years."

the four main party leaders

Mr Salmond said it was impossible to "reserve issues" and not discuss them in an election campaign.

"You cannot reserve your conscience, these are issues where we have a responsibility as Scots, we said in the war 'not in my name' - that was the call," said Mr Salmond

Mr McConnell said that he respected that some people in Scotland wished to give Prime Minister Tony Blair a "kicking on the way out".

However, he said, Mr Blair would be gone long before "we in Scotland are paying the price of a change of government in Scotland".

During the hour-long session, Mr Stephen was pressed on whether he would change his mind on a referendum on independence.

He said he would not be persuaded to do so and he insisted that the Union had benefited Scotland.

Mr Stephen added: "Independence is not going to solve all of Scotland's problems. When I speak to people around Scotland these issues come right down the list of priorities. I don't want this constant treacle of debate for the next four years."

Referring to her fellow panellists, Ms Goldie said that there was only a threat to the Union because of the "unholy trinity sitting on this panel".

The Aberdeen audience asked the questions

She added that although Labour wanted to save the Union it "couldn't save itself".

On the issue of independence, Mr Salmond said: "It is time for a new partnership, we should continue to have a partnership, but it should be a partnership of equals.

"There will always be a social union of people in England and elsewhere. Look at the countries around us, Norway, Iceland and Ireland - successful countries. Why can't Scotland be equally successful?"

The final question concerned what epitaph each of the leaders would expect to have if they are defeated at Thursday's poll.

All four smiled and said they did not expect to face defeat.

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