Scottish leaders debate: SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon seeks new power grab in return for supporting Ed Miliband

But Labour's Jim Murphy warns that full fiscal autonomy would leave Scotland with a massive financial 'black hole'

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Nicola Sturgeon would demand that Scotland be given full fiscal autonomy, leaving only defence and foreign affairs powers at Westminster, if the SNP helped deliver a Labour government.

The SNP leader, appearing in a televised debate with five other Scottish political leaders, has said a vote on the radical shift of power that would effectively create a federal United Kingdom, could take place next year.

Asked if she wanted full control over Scotland’s economy and taxation, Ms Sturgeon said: “I don’t think it is any secret that I want Scotland to have as many powers over our own economy and our own fiscal levers as soon as possible. As Scotland’s voice in the House of Commons, if the SNP is there in numbers we will be arguing for as many powers to come to Scotland as quickly as possible.”

The potential price of an “agreement” between the SNP and Labour in the event of a hung parliament – to put Ed Miliband in Downing Street in exchange for Scotland getting control of its own economy – was attacked by Labour’s Scottish leader Jim Murphy. He told the audience at King’s College, Aberdeen University, that businesses in Scotland, some of the SNP’s own supporters and trade unions all believed full fiscal autonomy would leave Scotland with a massive financial “black hole”. Recent estimates have suggested that if Scotland left the collective economy of the UK, it would cost it £7.6bn a year.

Mr Murphy said he wanted to see Scotland remain within the UK and that he would keep the Barnett Formula, which allocates Scotland a share of total UK spending, “today, tomorrow and for ever”. But Ms Sturgeon said that Scotland “did not have to accept the deficit for ever” and that there was “an alternative to being at the mercy of more Westminster cuts”. She said Scotland did not want another five years of Tory-led austerity politics that was  “driving people into poverty”.

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Patrick Harvie (Green), Ruth Davidson (Conservative), Jim Murphy (Scottish Labour), BBC's James Cook, Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Willie Rennie (Lib Dem) and David Coburn (UKIP) took part in the BBC Scotland leaders' debate in Aberdeen

The first intervention of Ukip’s senior Scottish spokesman, David Coburn, produced laughter in the audience when he tangled his words, saying his party would “take out the lowest people of society”. His language was largely incoherent and prompted Mr Murphy and Ms Sturgeon to ask if the debate was not wasted on trying to decipher Ukip policies.

The often heated exchanges between Mr Murphy and Ms Sturgeon began when the Labour leader said SNP policies had resulted in the poorest in Scotland having to hand over “vouchers for food”. He was accused by Ms Sturgeon of “shamefully” trying to score points by using the situation of Scotland’s most vulnerable people. She said: “I don’t want to live in a Scotland that has a welfare fund which is there to mitigate Tory welfare cuts.”

On Tuesday’s STV debate in Glasgow, Ms Sturgeon said another referendum could be back on the political agenda as soon as 2016. Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives,  was asked if the Tories would try to block another independence vote being held in Scotland. She said she “didn’t see the circumstances in which we would”.

 

The SNP leader, initially appearing to row back from her comment that another referendum was on the cards, then said that if another Tory government attempted to “drag Scotland out of the European Union” that would justify another in/out vote on the UK Union.

Willie Rennie, the Scottish Lib Dem leader, who tried to find a middle ground between the SNP and Labour, accused the SNP of failing to accept the No vote in last year’s independence vote. “Nicola needs to accept she lost the referendum,” he said.

Ms Sturgeon also confirmed that the SNP would vote against the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons, after Ms Davidson suggested the “red line” for WMD on the Clyde could simply mean the SNP simply abstained in a Commons vote. The SNP leader said: “It is often asked of me: is Trident a red line? Well you better believe that Trident is a red line. There is no circumstances under which SNP MPs will vote for the renewal of Trident.”

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