The Big General Election Leaders’ Debate – as it happened

21:45 Thanks to the politics society for putting on the event and to the leaders for being here tonight. Claps all round, well done everyone. I’ve been Ally, thanks for reading. I’m going for a pint.

21:43 Closing statements. Ruth Davidson believes in small government and unity in Britain. Promises to respect views of those she disagrees with, as she did during the referendum. Thanks her opponents for a civil debate. Believes in voting for what you want, not what you don’t want. Wants a strong economy, a strong UK with Scotland as a key part of it.

Murphy: this country is hurting. There are people who need a living wage, those who are struggling with zero-hours contracts, those who don’t have a home to live in. What we decide in this election will decide not just what happens in the UK but in the wider world. Wants a strong Scotland and a prime minister who understands what Scotland needs, not David Cameron.

Sturgeon: says it’s been a great debate. The issue debated tonight are very important, and hopes they will be at the centre of the election campaign. But the only way to make sure they are on the agenda at Westminster is to get SNP representation in parliament. She says to vote SNP so Scotland’s voice is heard.

Rennie thanks us for the questions and the humour. Thinks we can show politics in a good light if we continue in this manner. Wants everyone to have a fair chance in the world, as well as a strong economy. A strong liberal voice can hold back the forces of the other parties in government. He says Lib Dems have got the economy back on track, but fairly.

21:34 Ooh. A question on cannabis legalisation! Given the potential benefits to the economy, would they consider LEGALISING IT?

Rennie cites an unpublished report on the scientific effects of drugs that was covered up by the Tories. Thinks we should have a proper debate.

Davidson says there are many studies published showing a link between cannabis use and damage to mental heath. Doesn’t think it will help the country. Says another problem is legal highs. We need to have a discussion about all sorts of drugs. Rennie’s challenges: why did they block the government report, then?

Davidson doesn’t know what report he’s talking about. Groans. On to Murphy now. Doesn’t believe in legalisation, but we’re entitled to our views. Thinks there are serious mental health problems that need to be addressed, and that it’s not the priority.

Sturgeon now. as health secretary she did a lot of research into it and says there’s a lot of evidence that cannabis isn’t harmless, so she opposes legalisation. Have you tried it Nicola? She says in her Glasgow Uni days she may have dabbled. Willie Rennie is all about it, aye. Murphy says sniffing glue was more his thing. Bloody hell. Davidson: once or twice but it made her sick like Sturgeon. Ain’t this all nice and fun. They should all be arrested immediately IMO.

21:29 New question. Would a large return of SNP MPs in May lead to another independence referendum?

Sturgeon says that’s not what you’re voting for. It’s about Scotland’s interests. Refuses to state whether or not another referendum will be in their manifesto for 2016. She says she hasn’t even revealed the 2015 manifesto. Murphy summarises her stance: “Mibbes aye, mibbes naw”

Rennie says we need absolute clarity: if you vote SNP will you be voting for independence? Sturgeon says the SNP always stands for independence but won’t commit to another referendum. Thinks it’s great that all the other parties are so interested in when there will be another referendum.

21:25 New question: Trident. How can we justify paying for it?

Davidson kicks off by explaining what is actually paid for: renewing submarines that need to be improved. But ultimately she wants no country to have weapons. Only Ukraine has unilaterally disarmed in the last thirty years. Praises Tony Blair for bringing nuclear weapon stocks down multi-laterally by working with the US and other countries. She says it’s less safe to be in this country than it was twenty years.

Sturgeon is opposed in principle to nuclear weapons. Believes in unilateral nuclear disarmament. Even apart from the political aspect, says there is a financial argument too. Says it would cost £100 bn over 30 years, which could be much better spent elsewhere. Addresses the multi-lateral argument: says it would have more credibility if they didn’t also plan to renew their own weapons. Murphy asks: yes or no: is Trident a deal-breaker for a coalition? Yes, says Sturgeon.

Murphy says surely we all agree in a world free of nuclear weapons, but it’s about how we get there. How, in a dangerous world, do we achieve that? Doesn’t think we should drop straight to zero nuclear weapons, we need to do it gradually.

Rennie wants to exert maximum pressure on the rest of the world to get rid of nukes. Can’t do that without being “at the table” as it were. If we got rid of our weapons we would lose any influence over the discussions. He doesn’t want the weapons either but says we won’t increase our influence on nucealr disarmament by getting rid.

21:18 Murphy says he has no idea what the other parties stand for. Strange, given they’ve been saying it all night. Sturgeon quotes a 2010-vintage Jim Murphy who claimed that Labour then had the moral and constitutional right to form a government, yet now says only the biggest party can form a government. This was after Murphy has been heckled with “Liar!” from the floor.

Sturgeon says we shouldn’t have to do what they’re told by Labour in order to have their voice heard. Back to coalitions. Rules out a Conservative coalition. Beyond that, will form alliances with progressive parties such as Plaid Cymru of Wales and Green party, and any others.

Willie Rennie calls out Sturgeon on referring to Scotland as the SNP. Says they don’t speak for the whole of Scotland, to great applause from the audience. Fair play, Willie. Murphy now comes back to the liar jibe, which clearly hurt him. Says every largest party has formed the government since adult suffrage.

Sturgeon clarifies that she referred to a hypothetical Scotland represented by a large majority of SNP seats, which would be Scotland’s voice in London.

Davidson says nothing will change regarding Scotland’s voice being heard in Westminster.

21:10 Now, a coalition-building question. Which is the best option for a coalition, should a majority government not be formed? Reference to Take Me Out from Jim Murphy – he’s been watching his Zeitgeist Tapes.

Rennie first. Cites that the Lib Dems have formed a coalition in the Scottish Parliament with Labour, and, to his great surprise, with the Conservatives in Westminster. (He seems to find this amusing, strangely.) He says the Lib Dems acted in the best interests of the country, rather than in their party’s own interests. Rules out a coalition with the SNP, but will not reveal any more.

Davidson questions the questioner. Says there is no need to form a coalition: the primer minister would prefer a minority government and she agrees. Rules out an SNP coalition, and pretty much everyone else.

Murphy says Labour aims for a majority, and isn’t concerning with post-match analysis done before the event. Will worry about coalitions after the election. Wants to focus on winning the election. Can Labour hold the 41 seats it holds? Says it’s an uphill battle given the polls.

21:06 There’s a bit of Murphy-Davidson bickering going on. It’s all semantics, come on, let’s get on with it. And now, *gasp*, Nicola Sturgeon has declared she agrees with Ruth Davidson! Murphy really hasn’t read the Smith Commission, she concurs. Willie Rennie cries quietly in the corner.

21:03 Another question: what is home rule?

Rennie: it means being able to raise the majority of the money we spend in order to spend it as we see fit. It means making the Scottish Parliament a permanent fixture within the UK and an equal member among it.

Davidson agrees, says it’s about establishing out place in the UK. Murphy says it means more power in Scotland, including local councils. Pushed on what extra powers would be given. Says more social security powers, developing work programmes. He’s accused of repeating what’s in the Smith Commission already. He doesn’t want a centralised welfare state based in London.

Davidson also accuses him of not having read the Smith Commission. It’s kicking off now, folks. Hot dang!

20:59 We’re moving on. Praise the high heavens. Now a question on zero-hours contracts. Is it time to bring back minimum-hour work?

Murphy first. Not everyone will have experienced the problems with it, but people in his family have. It leads to dire results. Other problems include that companies force you to exclusivity contracts where you cannot work elsewhere. Points out that zero-hours contracts work for some, for example pensioners doing casual shifts, but that’s a tiny fraction. Confirms that Labour will abolish zero-hours contracts if elected in May.

Rennie now. References a large Dunfermline-based company that employs many on zero-hours contracts and on short-term contracts. The government must change this, but legislate it carefully.

Sturgeon agrees with both. Says zero-hours contracts suit a small number but they should be the exception and not the rule. She says it’s immoral that they exist, condemns the current government for not abolishing them and hopes the next government, whatever it may be, abolishes them.

Davidson says the issue is difficult to deal with because the contracts suit some people, including some students, pensioners and casual workers. Says it takes time to make legislation work without affecting those whom it suits.

20:53 Any more questions on austerity? Please god no. Oh wait yes there is. A question about the Barnett formula. Another challenges the spend-to-grow policy proposed by Sturgeon and Murphy, which is similar to that of France – hardly the most successful economy right now.

Sturgeon mentions that, as some of us may now, she believes Scotland should be independent – including fiscally. Wants the Barnett formula to be retained until Scotland can manage its own affairs.

Murphy thinks we get a great deal out of the Barnett formula and our spreading of wealth via paying tax in and getting services out. Doesn’t think full fiscal autonomy is compatible with the Barnett formula (Barnett! Drink!)

Davidson comes in now. Says Sturgeon can’t answer questions about fiscal autonomy, doesn’t have a plan. The system should involve us paying in more some years and getting more out in other years.

Rennie gets a wee word in. Hooray for Willie. He’s pulled out a report that says each person in Scotland would pay £800 as a result of financial autonomy.

20:46 Sturgeon has gone back to the question about the economy. She didn’t catch the question before, and I didn’t really catch her answer. Whoops. Moves on to say Murphy has disguised spending cuts amid his claims of being anti-austerity, so cannot claim to be so.

20:40 Points from the floor. Jim Murphy is accused of not having answered the question. There’s a question to Sturgeon about how she would grow the economy. A question to Murphy about how he could guarantee that tax raised from the Mansion Tax would make its way to the Scottish NHS given it’s a devolved issue.

Murphy tries to work out the questioner’s name and eventually gets it after much derision. Davidson jokes that she’s more popular with the ladies than Murphy is.

Is Murphy against austerity? “We voted against austerity in parliament last week.” But are you against austerity? “We’re against what the Tories want.” Hmm.

Willie Rennie now. Sings the praises of our economy, which competes with the US: signs of progress. He wants a split of 80:20 between taxes and public spending, which is the fair way (apparently).

Davidson takes on Murphy. Says Murphy has spoken about paying the bills, but has failed to mention that it was his own government who built up those bills.

20:38 Now Rennie’s statement has been put to Sturgeon. Says the Conservatives austerity policy has failed on its own terms. She says her priority is to grow the economy and lift people out of poverty. Admits she doesn’t have a timescale on how to do so.

It’s now put to Murphy. Cracks a joke about the Lib Dems not being a major party. Says SNP oppose austerity without offering a solution. The Labour party offer a solution through raising taxes.

20:35 The first question from the floor. Will any of the party leaders admit that austerity has failed in reducing the deficit and improving the lives of people in this country?

Sturgeon says it absolutely has failed. The most vulnerable people have has to bear the biggest burden. Says that austerity has not even met the objectives that had been set for it. Modest spending increases would allow us to protect services.

Murphy says of course the current system has failed. Cites zero-hours contracts as failing working families around the country. Explains his plans for improving social services around helping working class families. “Working class families” is our first bingo shout of the night. Drink!

Davidson says we need to focus on reducing the deficit. She says that Sturgeon has no idea how they would bring it down. Admits it’s been a tough few years but says there are signs of recovery and success including increased employment. The job isn’t done but we must not undo the work that’s been done.

Rennie says it’s about balance. We need to spend as much as possible in order to stimulate the economy without unsettling the markets. Says the debt levels are too high in this country, and doesn’t want to burden future generations. Says Sturgeon and Murphy are denying the reality of the deficit situation.

20:29 Finally we have Ruth Davidson. She refers to Labour leaving no money five years ago, and defends Tory policies that have been enforced as a result of that. Says policies have worked: the UK’s economy is growing fast, income tax rate has doubled and the minimum wage has gone up faster than inflation. Inequality is falling after peaking in 2010. The UK’s recovery is “textbook” and an example for other countries. She doesn’t want us to undo the hard work of the last five years and instead for us to take responsibility for our country.

20:26 Now it’s Jim Murphy. They took selfies in the lift down, apparently. He says it’s the most important election in a long time. His message to traditional Labour voters thinking of voting SNP is that Labour can bring about change. They don’t want 10 years of Tory rule. They will call time on “callous experiment” of austerity and foodbanks. They will raise taxes to 50p in the pound to provide social services for working class families. Wants Scotland to come together to bring about change.

20:23 Nicola Sturgeon is up next. She wants Scotland’s voice to be heard in Westminster so our interests are met and not sidelined. The SNP will shake up politics in London: change of policy on Trident, ensure delivery of powers promised in the vow, including the NHS and social security. Denies the SNP will result in either Tory or Labour government – it’s a vote for the SNP and Scotland’s interests.

20:20 Rennie talks about his doorstep encounter with a man in the borders, and income tax fairness. He says LDs are the party of fairness but also deliver economic success. They plan to bring fairness over the next five years where the Tories can’t, economic competence where Labour can’t, and not lose track of the bigger picture like the SNP. Brings it back to the start: those earning minimum wage should not pay income tax.

20:18 First, each leader will have two minutes to tell us why we should vote for their party. We will start with Willie Rennie, leader of the Lib Dems.

20:15 And they’re on stage! Finally. Everyone’s at the right pedestal and the president of the politics society greets us.

19:43 Hello and welcome to qmunicate’s liveblog of the Big General Election Leaders’ Debate hosted by the Glasgow University Politics Society at the Queen Margaret Union. We are due to hear from the First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National party, Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of Scottish Labour, Jim Murphy, the leader of the Scottish Conservative party, Ruth Davidson, and the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Willie Rennie. The debate will begin at 8.00pm.

Questions have been submitted in advance through the politics society, before students on the floor will have their chance to respond to the leaders of the four parties.

I’m Ally and I’ll be providing live updates throughout the evening (as best we can; it’s sure to be a fast-paced event). Just refresh your page throughout the evening for the latest posts.

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