Tonight, leaders from Scotland's five largest political parties faced off for the first time in this year's election campaign.

Nicola Sturgeon, Anas Sarwar, Douglas Ross, Lorna Slater and Willie Rennie went head to head in the leaders' debate, broadcast live on the BBC, on Tuesday evening.

We brought you live updates and reaction during the debate - and we've run down the key topics discussed throughout the evening.

Independence focus

The prospect of a second independence referendum dominated the beginning of the debate this evening, with the first few audience questions focused on the constitution. 

Nicola Sturgeon was asked if her focus was on Covid recovery or a second referendum.

She said that she will continue to focus on the pandemic, and added that the "danger is we take the wrong decisions".

Douglas Ross insisted: “We can’t have a recovery and a referendum.”

HeraldScotland: Pro-independence supporters march through Edinburgh, during the All Under One Banner march. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday October 6, 2018. Photo credit should read: Jane Barlow/PA Wire.

Anas Sarwar said he wanted to “focus on what unites us as a country, not what divides us”.

Willie Rennie said: “This is not the moment for another referendum. We need to put the division behind us and bring the country together.”

And Lorna Slater, meanwhile, said the coronavirus pandemic had shown the economy had been based on low wages and insecure work, and that “we must not go back to this broken system."


The leaders were asked if the parties have a realistic plan for clearing the backlog of appointments.

Anas Sarwar said that an NHS restart plan had to be at the centre of a Covid recovery plan.

Douglas Ross said that the SNP are "not focused" on making improvements in the NHS, and said there were issues "long before the pandemic hit".


Willie Rennie said that "it will not be a quick fix" but says that investment is needed to ensure services can improve.

Lorna Slater said that Boris Johnson "couldn't find the money" to give NHS workers a larger pay rise.

And Nicola Sturgeon said that five years ago, she committed to investing £500 million into the NHS over the life of the parliament - and that there are six permanent elective centres planned for Scotland.

The timing of a second independence referendum

Ms Sturgeon confirmed she would want a second vote on Scottish independence to take place in the first half of the next five-year Holyrood term “assuming the crisis has passed”.

Lorna Slater of the Scottish Greens said her party would commit to a referendum taking place in the next Holyrood term in its manifesto.

She said: “Around the room we hear people who are in favour of the union not actually arguing for the union, but instead arguing that the people of Scotland shouldn’t have the right to choose.”

She added: “The Scottish Greens would support a referendum in this term of parliament because we think decisions about Scotland should be made by the Scottish people.”

But Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross highlighted the coronavirus vaccination programme as being one of the strengths of the United Kingdom.

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With more than half of all Scottish adults having had their first dose of the vaccination, he said: “That’s the union working, the United Kingdom getting the vaccines that are delivered by our NHS staff, our British armed forces and volunteers. That’s the union working for people right now.”

Anas Sarwar wanted that Ms Sturgeon has a "blind spot" when it comes to the constitution. He said that she should put as much focus on child poverty as she does on the constitution.

And Willie Rennie agrees with Mr Sarwar, warning the independence debate "is going to be bitter, it's going to be divided, it's going to last years".

Universal Basic Income

An audience member asked if the party leaders supported Universal Basic income. Party leaders were asked to answer in a short answer by host Sarah Smith.

Nicola Sturgeon: Yes, it has been trialled in certain areas but current powers.

Douglas Ross: No

Lorna Slater: Committed to working towards it

Willie Rennie: Yes, we argued for it during the pandemic

Anas Sarwar: Yes, we support trials of it and the pandemic was a good opportunity