NICOLA Sturgeon has come under fire in the latest televised election debate after confirming SNP's MPs will seek to use their influence to give Holyrood control of all tax and spending decisions in Scotland.

 

Pressed during the BBC's leaders debate, the SNP leader said her MPs would vote for full fiscal autonomy as early as next year.

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She faced a barrage of criticism from her Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat opponents who claimed the move would leave Scotland billions of pounds worse off.

Jim Murphy, the Scottish Labour leader, won applause when he told the audience at Aberdeen University: "The idea you would voluntarily give up the pooling and sharing of resources and the ability to transfer money around these islands, I don't think it makes sense."

He said he wanted to keep the existing Barnett formula funding mechanism "today, tomorrow and forever".

Willie Rennie, the Scots Lib Dem leader, warned of "blind panic" if Scotland had to rely on oil revenues.

The SNP has made full fiscal autonomy, also known as devo max, a key election demand.

However Ms Sturgeon has stopped short in recent weeks of saying her MPs would attempt to secure it in the next parliament.

The respected Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated the Scottish Government would face a £7.6billion black hole in its finances if it had to rely entirely on taxes raised in Scotland to meet its public spending commitments in the current financial year.

The low price of oil and tax breaks to help North Sea producers announced at the last Budget have slashed Scotland's revenue forecasts.

Ms Sturgeon was pressed on the policy as six Scots party leaders, including the Greens' Patrick Harvie and Ukip's David Coburn, faced each other in a Question Time-style forum.

She said: "I want Scotland to have as many powers over our own economy and our own fiscal decisions as soon as possible.

"As Scotland's voice in the next House of Commons, if the SNP is there in numbers, we will be arguing for as many powers to come to Scotland as soon as possible."

Asked about her proposed timescale, she told presenter James Cook: "I would like it as quickly as the parties agree to give it."

When Mr Murphy challenged: "Would your MPs vote for it next year?" she replied: "I would vote for it, would you support it?"

The SNP - which is on course to send upwards of 40 MPs to Westminster according to opinion polls - will have a chance to press for full fiscal autonomy early in the next parliament.

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have all promised to devolve additional tax and welfare powers recommended by the Smith Commission.

Labour has promised a Home Rule Bill within 100 days, if Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister.

Defending her plans, Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish economy was "not dependent on oil" and argued the UK offered no protection to Scotland's finances after Holyrood budgets were cut by £12billion over the past five years.

She said Scotland should "manage our own resources" or remain "at the mercy of continued Westminster cuts".

The debate came a day after Ms Sturgeon hinted the SNP would promise a second independence referendum after next year's Holyrood election.

She again refused to spell out her plans last night, saying she wanted to focus on the General Election first.

Referring to Ms Sturgeon's previous claims that last year's referendum was a "once in a generation" event, Mr Rennie - whose party has been damaged by broken promises over tuition fees - said: "You are not talking about breaking your promise are you? Because I would advise against it."

The six leaders also faced questions on the economy, green energy and the"red lines" they would adopt in post-election talks with other parties.

Ukip's Scottish leader Mr Coburn, an MEP, was booed when he claimed the rise in food banks had been caused by an "open door immigration policy".

An Ipsos MORI poll for the BBC, ahead of the debate, found little support for a second independence referendum in the next five years.

A swift re-run of last September's historic poll was ranked 19th out of 23 priorities, according to the survey.

However, there was stronger support for giving Holyrood full control over income tax and benefits, both of which ranked in the top 10 priorities.

The most popular policy was increasing the minimum wage for those aged over 21.

The survey suggested an in/out referendum on the UK's membership of the EU was important for Scots than a re-run of the independence vote.

More than 1,000 adults were questioned for the research, with pollsters asking them score a list issues out of 10 depending on how important these were to them.