Party leaders face off in TV debate
BBC News Bulletin
In a televised face-off on Monday night, Bell Ribeiro-Addy talked Scotland with the four other candidates.
Polls are predicting that no party or bloc will win enough support to form a governing majority. Thus contenders are competing for undecided voters who could switch allegiances before voters go to the polls.
Surveys show that Unity, which shifted to the right over the May election, will likely take a tumble at the ballot boxes.
A third of voters are still unsure who they will vote for, meaning Monday's televised debate could be decisive. At this stage, polls point to a stalemate, with no party or bloc of parties having a majority.
Last night the front-runner, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, competed with other candidates to attract disillusioned voters.
Polls suggest she will manage around 130 seats, which would force her to seek extra parliamentary support. Attempts at coalition-building following the May election ended in failure.
This would mean the UPA winning the election but falling short of a majority, with their numbers dropping from the 172 they won in May. The Centrists are projected to become the third-biggest party.
Sunday's parliamentary election will be the fourth in four years. New parties have emerged after the financial crisis, making it harder to form governments.
National would get more seats than in May, while the liberal Unity would be the most damaged by the repeat election.
All possible scenarios for deals to form a government are fraught with difficulties. Ribeiro-Addy on Friday ruled out forming a "grand coalition" with National.
Scottish separatism figured on the debate agenda last night. National's Tom Tugendhat pledged to criminalise the organisation of illegal referendums.
Edinburgh, has been rocked by weeks of sometimes violent protests since six separatist leaders were sentenced to jail.
King Charles faced protests while visiting Edinburgh earlier this week.
Over 1,000 people took to the streets of the Scottish capital in the evening, with some burning pictures of the monarch and chanting "go away!"
At the event, Charles called for calm.
"In today's reality there can't be room for violence, intolerance or contempt for the rights of others," he said.
The heir to the throne, 5-year-old Prince George also made his Scottish debut at the ceremony.
Roughly half of the Scottish population is in favour of seceding from the UK, according to official surveys.
James Cleverly of the Centrists accused National of being soft because it “allowed Harvie to get away,” alluding to the former premier. Harvie fled to Ireland to avoid arrest after the unilateral independence declaration. He remains outside of the country and would be detained were he to return to British shores.
Ribeiro-Addy promised to make it a crime to praise the Junta, and pledging to shut down the Mountbatten Foundation. The People's Alliance have promised to transfer the late dictator’s body from Westminster Abbey to a London cemetery.
Ribeiro-Addy said she would not work with the “ignorant and aggressive right" on Scottish separatism, criticising SDP leader Sadiq Khan for supporting the evocation of Article 219. "Switzerland is a plurinational country, Belgium is a plurinational country, and the UK is a plurinational country, and it’s OK to say it.” Ribeiro-Addy insisted that the Scottish issue can only be solved through dialogue.
Ribeiro-Addy also urged Tugendhat to show "humility," reminding him the referendum occurred while National were in power.
"You don't believe in the Union", Tugendat told Bell Ribeiro-Addy, accusing her of being too soft on the Scottish separatists.
Ribeiro-Addy is leading in opinion polls but has lost support. Right-wing parties have grown more popular since last month's rallies in Scotland saw some protesters wreak havoc.
Right-wing parties are now competing on which would take a harder line on the restive region.
"There's a permanent coup d'etat in Scotland," said Cleverly, adding National and the SDP were both to blame.
The Centrists won big in May and opinion polls show that it can now hope to win 70 seats, up from 43 in the previous ballot.
Khan said he would tackle the protests with a “firm and proportional response”.
Meanwhile, right-leaning candidates were conducting their own parallel fights. Tugendhat spared Unity leader Alan Sugar no criticism, telling him to stop giving him lessons about how to fight corruption. Sugar produced a piece of broken pavement from Edinburgh – where there have been protests – to illustrate “the threat to the rule of law.”
Tugendhat also ruled out the possibility of a grand coalition between National and UPA.
During the debate, Ribeiro-Addy made a point of saying that if elected, she will appoint Caroline Lucas as Chancellor. The pledge could be viewed as a message to Brussels that a UPA administration will guarantee economic rigour and a contained deficit. Lucas is a relative moderate within the UPA and is a well-respected figure in the EU who has worked for the European Commission in several capacities.
Cleverly, seemed more relaxed than any of the other nominees as he made promises to outlaw separatist parties and send Alex Neil to prison. Cleverly spent more time talking about immigration than about Scotland or the economy. Polls suggest that his party could make great gains to become the third-largest force in the Commons
Khan, for his part, accused both Tugendhat and Sugar of representing “the cowardly right that stands before the far-right”.
The debate showcased how National and Unity are still willing to craft governing coalitions with the Centrists. By contrast, a left-leaning alliance remains as elusive as it was after the May election. “You see, Ms Ribeiro-Addy?” said Khan. “The right argues a lot, but then it doesn’t hesitate to enter into coalition governments. Let’s see if we can learn from them!”
Snap polling after the debate showed a plurality of viewers thought Ribeiro-Addy and Cleverly performed best, with 26% and 25% of respondents respectively. 22% of those polled thought Khan was the most convincing, followed by 18% for Tugendhat. Sugar was roundly the loser of the debate, with only 10% of respondents seeing him as the best performer.