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The two contenders for the leadership of Scotland’s governing SNP have clashed in a heated televised debate. The issue at the heart of the discussion was who can steer the party to a successful second independence referendum in the aftermath of their historic but unsuccessful bid in 2014.
In the debate, held at the STV studios in Glasgow and moderated by broadcaster Stephen Jardine, the nominations for the top job – Mike Russell and Nicola Sturgeon – discussed the party’s future direction, the forthcoming election manifesto, and their different visions for independence.
Mr Russell, the party’s Deputy Leader, argued in favour of a cautious approach, advocating a step-by-step process to create a political and economic framework for independence. He dismissed calls for an immediate second referendum, saying that while a “yes/no vote is part of our DNA” the party should spend time crafting a realistic and deliverable plan before putting any vote before the public.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, however, argued that the party should set a timeline for a second independence referendum and begin preparing the public for the possibility of another vote. She said that anything less would mean a wasted opportunity to widen support for the SNP’s cause and that any calls for moderation should not be allowed to delay an independence push.
The debate was frequently heated, with both candidates pressing their respective arguments strongly. At one point, Mr Russell accused Ms Sturgeon of “running away” from other pressing issues such as health and education, saying that the SNP should focus on policy in those areas first. Ms Sturgeon denied this, suggesting that Mr Russell was “fear-mongering and trying to delay the march to independence”.
The result of the leadership contest will be announced in October and the two candidates will hope that their performances in the heated debate helped sway voters in their favour.