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SNP leadership hopefuls take part in second televised debate – as it happened

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Key events

Closing summary

Here is a round-up of the political news stories from today:

  • The three candidates to replace the outgoing Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon – Kate Forbes, Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf – took part in the second televised SNP leadership debate on Thursday evening live on Channel 4’s news programme. It followed a heated exchange between Yousaf and Forbes two days ago in the first debate, which saw Scottish Tory leader quoting Forbes’ criticisms of the SNP government during First Minister’s Questions in Holyrood.

  • Yousaf addressed Forbes’ criticism of him and said she provided “ammunition” to opposition parties to attack the SNP with. He tells Forbes: “What unfortunately happened in the last TV debate, Kate, was that you essentially gave our opponents so much ammunition to attack us with.”

  • Forbes insisted that the Scottish Tories “fear me” and referred to polling which shows her as the most popular of the trio among the Scottish public. Regan added that it is “perfectly acceptable” to admit what the SNP may be able to do better and said it is “time for change”.

  • Meanwhile, Home Office mandarins are demanding an apology from Suella Braverman for offering “praise [to] staff in private only to attack them in public” after an email in her name claimed civil servants had blocked attempts to curb migration. A letter sent to the department’s most senior civil servant accused the home secretary of “an outrageous attack on the integrity and impartiality of the thousands of Home Office staff” and said she must apologise.

  • HS2 will be delayed by another two years and major roadbuilding schemes will be mothballed, ministers have confirmed, after soaring inflation added billions to the cost of transport infrastructure projects. Ministers insisted they remained committed to Britain’s high-speed rail network scheme, but the budget constraints have cast further doubt over prospects for the rail project’s full implementation.

  • Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle criticised the way in which the delay to the HS2 leg was communicated. A spokesperson for the speaker’s office said: “The speaker has consistently told the government that major policy announcements should be made to the house first so that members have the chance to ask questions on behalf of their constituents, rather than hearing about them via the media.”

  • Italy’s deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, has praised Rishi Sunak’s anti-immigration measures as “harsh but fair”. In a post on Instagram, Salvini, leader of the far-right League, quoted a tweet by Sunak, translated into Italian, in which Sunak said: “If you arrive illegally in the UK, you can’t claim asylum; you can’t benefit from our modern slavery protections; you can’t make spurious human rights claims; you can’t stay”.

  • Suella Braverman, the home secretary, has said she feels personally offended by Gary Lineker comparing her language to that used by the Nazis because her husband is Jewish. In an interview with the BBC’s Nick Robinson for his Political Thinking podcast, Braverman escalated her criticism of the Match of the Day presenter over his comment, saying it was “offensive”, “flippant” and “lazy”.

  • Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland secretary, has suggested that MPs will vote on the Northern Ireland protocol deal by the end of the month. Speaking on a visit to a garden centre on the outskirts of Belfast, he told reporters: “There’s some European processes that also are happening. So, the European parliament will have its say on this, I believe, next week, and then I think there’s one more stage in the European political sphere for it to go through, so that’ll be in the next two or three weeks.”

  • The government’s flagship vocational reform continues to struggle, as the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, announced in a written statement this morning that a series of T-levels due to launch this year will instead be delayed. Keegan said four of the six new T-level subjects starting in September have now been put on hold for at least a year, with catering delayed until 2025, “to allow time to consult with employers and sector bodies”.

  • Boris Johnson has been urged to stick to his job as an MP and save the speeches he charges private companies millions of pounds to hear for the House of Commons. Having already made more than £3.7m in 2023, the former prime minister has faced criticism for the limited time he has spent making contributions in parliament.

Thanks for following the UK politics live blog throughout this wet and windy Thursday. From me, Tom Ambrose, it’s goodbye for now.

In one of the more confrontational moments of the SNP leadership debate, Forbes and Yousaf faced off over her criticism of her party’s record in government during the first televised debate on Tuesday.

Here is a clip of the pair clashing again this evening.

We are only going to win support for our cause if we work together as a team.”
SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf says fellow candidate Kate Forbes gave opposition politicians “so much ammunition to attack us with” during debates. #NextLeaderOfScotland pic.twitter.com/qbXptM0lMI

— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) March 9, 2023

Debate ends with Regan refusing to endorse a second preference candidate

The debate comes to a close with Guru-Murthy attempting to ask Regan who her supporters should back as a second preference; Forbes or Yousaf?

She says “if the SNP members are happy with devolution, they have two people they can pick from but if they want someone with a plan to deliver independence, they need to vote for Ash Regan”.

Guru-Murthy concludes he “didn’t get the answer but never mind”.

And, with that, the second televised SNP leadership debate is over. Thanks for following along.

SNP leadership hopeful Kate Forbes taking part in the Channel 4 leadership debate, at the Engine Works in Glasgow.

SNP leadership candidate Kate Forbes takes part in the leadership debate, broadcast on Channel 4, from the Engine Works in Glasgow, Scotland. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

Candidates quizzed on plans for a second Scottish independence referendum

Somewhat belatedly, we now turn to the burning issue of how and when each candidate will seek to deliver independence for Scotland as SNP leader.

Guru-Murthy draws attention to a Channel 4 poll which found Regan is seen as the prospective leader least likely to achieve an independent Scotland.

She says:

I am the only person, I believe, in this contest that actually has a plan to deliver independence.

So, I’m suggesting that we set up an independence convention. That is an attempt to unite the wider movement, other political parties and groups from the Yes campaign of old and inspire that and lead that.

She adds that she has had conversations with all pro-independence leaders in Scotland who are “excited” to work with her.

Meanwhile, Yousaf says the important thing is to build a “consistent, sustained majority” for an independent Scotland.

He adds:

Our route to independence is actually quite simple. Our opponents want us to talk endlessly about process. Actually, what we have to talk about is policy. We need to be inspiring people with our vision for independence.

If we do that, much like we got the Scottish parliament, those political obstacles will disappear.

Forbes makes her case as the leader who can “reach out to No voters and persuade [them] to vote Yes”.

She says:

We will reach them through competent government with a competent leader and making the economic case for independence.

Over the last few years, despite the barrage of attacks from the UK government on devolution, we haven’t seen the dial shift on independence as much as I would have liked.

We need a more gentle approach on reaching No voters and that is through gentle persuasion making the economic case.

Regan does, however, highlight her own resignation “on a point of principle” over the SNP’s gender recognition reform plans.

She says:

I’m not religious but I respect other people’s views.

Asked if she believes trans men and women should have the same rights, as adults, as everyone else, she replies: “Of course.”

Guru-Murthy directs a question about whether abortion is right or wrong at Forbes, who says she has stated previously that “while I, myself, wouldn’t have an abortion, I would uphold the legal provisions which are in place for women to access abortion services”.

She adds:

There is a distinction between what I would do myself, which I think is actually the common view held by a lot of people in Scotland and beyond.

Yousaf says he would uphold abortion rights and support buffer zones to prevent people protesting outside abortion centres.

Regan says she is pro-choice and says it is “extremely important” for women to have access to abortion services.

Following Forbes’ comments on gay marriage, the candidates are asked whether politicians should vote on religious grounds.

Yousaf begins by saying he is a “proud Muslim” but that is not the basis on which he makes policy. He says it is clear that religion or faith should not be the basis on how politicians vote.

Forbes says her religious beliefs will influence how she leads in the same way it influences how she sets her budgets, “in other words, not at all”.

She says she has valued fairness and progressive policies in her budgets, adding that she agrees with Yousaf that on some issues, she will vote on “conscience”.

Yousaf hits back at Forbes that voters need to know the first leader will stand up for them, not just “tolerate” them.

For a three-person debate, it does seem to have quickly spiralled into a face off between the two frontrunners, with Regan very much on the periphery tonight.

Guru-Murthy is now throwing a handful of quickfire questions at the candidates.

First, he asks who has been the best Scottish first minister – Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon?

Yousaf says:

Nicola Sturgeon, hands down.

Forbes replies:

Nicola Sturgeon has been an exceptional person to serve under.

Regan simply adds:

Nicola Sturgeon.

On the matter of the monarchy’s place in a potentially independent Scotland, the host asks: “King Charles or president Andy Murray?”

Forbes says it is a matter for the people of Scotland but that she is a big fan of Murray. Regan says: “Andy Murray, every time,” while Yousaf says: “In the long-term, President Andy Murray all the way”.

In response to a question about Gary Lineker’s tweets about the UK government’s asylum bill, Regan says she didn’t see them, Yousaf says the former England striker “absolutely nailed it”, while Forbes says she agrees with his sentiment.

The candidates are now being asked about whether Scotland ought to be exporting more oil and gas, or less.

Regan tells Guru-Murthy:

Oil and gas in Scotland supports about 70,000 jobs in Scotland. I’m very clear that I’m standing up for Scottish jobs.

We need to be very careful with the transition, I’m obviously committed to us getting to net zero and making that transition but we have to be very careful we are not putting people in Scotland out of jobs, hollowing out our communities whilst we are importing oil from other countries.

That just doesn’t make financial sense for us whatsoever.

She adds that whether it was more or less exports would “have to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis”.

Forbes, on the other hand, immediately commits to “less over the longer term” and says that a “just transition” could save jobs.

She says:

The ‘just transition’ means putting justice at its heart, not throwing jobs to the wind but ensuring those jobs have somewhere to go in our renewable industries. We’ve got huge potential but we need to do this at a pace that works for people in well-paid, secure jobs.

Yousaf also says he is committed to less oil and gas because the North Sea is a “declining basin”.

He adds that he doesn’t want to “just harness the [renewable industries] jobs but make sure that we, the people, get some of that profit too”.

Yousaf tells Forbes she has handed ‘ammunition’ to opposition parties

Yousaf addresses Forbes’ criticism of him directly and said she provided “ammunition” to opposition parties to attack the SNP with.

It comes as the leader of the Scottish Tories, Douglas Ross, used the debate against first minister Sturgeon in Holyrood.

Yousaf tells Forbes:

What unfortunately happened in the last TV debate, Kate, was that you essentially gave our opponents so much ammunition to attack us with.

The fact Douglas Ross did first minister’s questions today and said your words would be in every single Conservative leaflet.

What you’ve done is you’ve handed the Conservatives and our opponents material ammunition to attack and trash our record. Now you will be on every single leaflet.

They don’t fear you Kate, they are rooting for you to win so that your words are on every single leaflet.

Forbes insists the Scottish Tories “do fear me” and refers to polling which shows her as the most popular of the trio among the Scottish public.

Regan adds that it is “perfectly acceptable” to admit what the SNP may be able to do better and says it is “time for change”.

Regan says nurses are “crying out” for someone to listen to the staff and get the NHS back on track.

But Yousaf defends his record as health secretary, saying he spends most days talking to staff.

He says:

You can recruit all you want but if you’re recruiting to an empty bucket, it ain’t going to help so we have to make sure we retain our staff too.

Guru-Murthy then offers Forbes the opportunity to apologise to Yousaf following the criticism she received for talking down his record in government.

She dodges the question as to whether she is proud of his record.

Regan, however, adds:

I don’t think attacking people personally is the way to go and I’ve chosen not to do that myself because I don’t think that’s appropriate. But clearly if we’re going to go for a new leadership, I think this is a time for a brave heart, not a faint heart.

When people tell you who they are and they tell you they’re not going to do anything about independence and they’re quite content with devolution, then people should listen to that.

SNP leadership debate begins

Channel 4’s host Krishnan Guru-Murthy, in Glasgow, kicks off the debate with a question on Forbes’ criticism of health minister and fellow leadership hopeful Yousaf’s record in government.

She responds by saying it has been a “privilege” to serve alongside Yousaf and under Sturgeon in government.

Forbes says:

I think we need to take a step back with the NHS, we need to empower the frontline, we need to ensure that funding is going on the frontline with our doctors and nurses.

Social care needs to be reformed through average wages and average terms and conditions, she adds.

Yousaf replies by insisting he has momentum in the campaign and repeats the line that Scotland is the only country in the UK not to face NHS strikes.

He says:

We have to make sure we are relentless in our focus in reducing waiting times and they have been reduced by 25%.

The NHS in Scotland outperforms the NHS across other UK countries, he says.

Next SNP leadership debate to begin at 7pm

The next televised SNP leadership debate is due to get under way in just under half an hour.

The three candidates to replace the outgoing first minister Nicola Sturgeon – Kate Forbes, Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf – will go head-to-head just 48 hours after their last showdown live on STV.

Tonight’s debate will be hosted by Channel 4’s 7pm news programme and I will be bringing you all the key talking points here.

Stay tuned.

Home Office officials demand apology from Suella Braverman over ‘attack on integrity’

Rajeev Syal

Rajeev Syal

Home Office mandarins are demanding an apology from Suella Braverman for offering “praise [to] staff in private only to attack them in public” after an email in her name claimed civil servants had blocked attempts to curb migration.

A letter sent to the department’s most senior civil servant accused the home secretary of “an outrageous attack on the integrity and impartiality of the thousands of Home Office staff” and said she must apologise.

It adds to evidence of anger within the Home Office at an email signed by Braverman which blamed an “an activist blob of leftwing lawyers, civil servants and the Labour party” for blocking laws to curb “illegal” migration. Braverman insists she neither saw nor sanctioned the email before it was sent to thousands of party activists.

Wynne Parry, the Home Office rep of the FDA union, sent the letter to Sir Matthew Rycroft, the Home Office permanent secretary, on Wednesday.

Parry, whose union represents senior grade civil servants, said the home secretary’s explanation that she did not sanction the letter is not enough to calm “furious” staff – and she must still say sorry.

West Midlands mayor Andy Street has said the latest re-phasing of HS2 is a “great disappointment” and called for the delays to be kept to a minimum.

Street, a Conservative, said in a statement:

However, this is a taxpayer-funded project and so there can be no blank cheque as the cost realities facing the construction sector bite.

It has long been reported about cost over-runs and budget concerns, and so I can understand the logic behind the DfT’s decision to opt for re-phasing in an attempt to bring costs down.

What is clear, however, is that the re-phasing and remodelling work has to be done at breakneck speed so any delays can be kept to a minimum and we can get on and get HS2 built and trains running as soon as possible.

Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has criticised the way in which the delay to the HS2 leg was communicated.

A spokesperson for the speaker’s office said:

The speaker has consistently told the government that major policy announcements should be made to the house first so that members have the chance to ask questions on behalf of their constituents, rather than hearing about them via the media.

HS2 will be delayed by another two years and major roadbuilding schemes will be mothballed, ministers confirmed, after soaring inflation added billions to the cost of transport infrastructure projects.

Ministers insisted they remained committed to Britain’s high-speed rail network scheme, but the budget constraints have cast doubt over prospects for the rail project’s delivery.

Sunak’s bill would have closed door on Mo Farah and me, says charity chief

Aamna Mohdin

Aamna Mohdin

The head of the Scottish Refugee Council, Sabir Zazai, who arrived in the UK in the back of a lorry 23 years ago, has said Rishi Sunak’s illegal migration bill would have denied sanctuary to thousands of refugees such as him and Sir Mo Farah.

The home secretary, Suella Braverman, struggled to clarify on Wednesday whether the Olympic gold medallist Farah would have been deported as soon as he turned 18 years old under the latest immigration proposals.

But Zazai, who was presented with an OBE in January for his work, said the bill closed the door on the vast majority of refugees seeking safety today and historically.

Britain’s Mo Farah at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Britain’s Mo Farah at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph: Jae C Hong/AP

Zazai, who had fled Afghanistan, said: “There’s no regular route. If there was a regular route, I wouldn’t have risked my life and many other people will not risk their lives and the lives of their children.”

He added: “[This would have affected] all of us. Not just Mo Farah or me, but hundreds of thousands of people who fled and live their lives here. The friends, colleagues and neighbours, the people who have brought so much to this country, all of them would be affected.”

Andrew Sparrow

Andrew Sparrow

Labour says the HS2 delay shows that the north of England is paying the price for “staggering Conservative failure”. In a statement for the party, Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, said:

Tens of thousands of jobs and billions in economic growth are dependent on this project.

The north is yet again being asked to pay the price for staggering Conservative failure.

Conservative chaos and chronic indecision is holding back jobs, growth and costing the taxpayer.

This is the biggest project in Europe and delays pile costs up in the long run – ministers now need to come clean on precisely how much their indecision will cost taxpayers and the north.

That is all from me for today. My colleague Tom Ambrose is now taking over.

Here is my colleague Gwyn Topham’s story about the HS2 delays.

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