And the winner of the Scottish Leaders’ Debate is….a nurse

Yes, Willie was brilliant and we’ll come to that in a moment. But let’s hear it for this nurse who had Nicola Sturgeon on the ropes. Two weeks ago the First Minister led her MSPs to vote against an end to the pay freeze for Scottish nurses. The nurse in the audience spoke very movingly about having to use a food bank. She also talked about how demoralising working in the NHS was. Watch her here.

A few years ago, a friend of mine who’s a nurse really struggled to manage on her salary as a single parent so I know that what tonight’s nurse says rings true.

I also spent 51 days last Autumn watching exactly how hard and stressful work is for nurses. No matter how short-staffed they were and how rushed off their feet they were, they still managed to give my husband fantastic care. I was worried then about the effect that it was having on their health. Giving at 120% all the time is simply not sustainable.

So, despite the cybernats predictably pouring all sorts of poison onto the internet, what that nurse says rings true.

The Record’s David Clegg said that he had never seen Nicola Sturgeon look so uncomfortable on television.

Moving on to the debate itself, Willie Rennie had one job. He had to show the Lib Dems’ unique position as a pro EU, pro UK progressive party. He did that really well. His interventions were punchy and clear and he was cheered when he argued for a referendum on the Brexit deal. He was brilliant on mental health and education, asking Nicola why it’s taken her so long to accept the obvious stuff that he’s been banging on about for years – like investment in early years.

He did a good job of attacking Ruth over Brexit, the only leader to actually land a blow on her. “If Boris was lying then is Ruth lying now?” he said.

He did well but didn’t get anywhere like his fair share of the speaking time. The event was dominated by Ruth Davidson and Nicola Sturgeon shouting at each other about independence, something that suited them both. Anything but talk about the records of the UK and Scottish Governments. However, the audience wasn’t buying it. They actually booed them at one point.

Both of them looked completely rattled at various stages.

A teacher also challenged Nicola on her government’s failures on education.

Surprisingly, nobody really took Ruth to task on social security – and Nicola only tried to get in the rape clause at the end. Ruth was caught out saying things that were simply not true – she clearly had forgotten that her Government at Westminster had reduced access to Personal Independence Payments for people with mental health problems.

Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, spoke from the heart, which is in the right place, as she always does. Her problem is that there is no point saying that the first thing a Labour government would do would be to give EU nationals the right to stay when Labour MPs and peers voted against that when they had the chance.

Patrick Harvie, the leader of the Scottish Greens tried to make out that he hadn’t been assimilated by the SNP. Unfortunately, nobody really got the chance to point out that he voted with them so much of the time.

David Coburn, the UKIP leader in Scotland was every bit as dire as he has been every other time he’s been on tv.

There’s to be a rematch between Willie, Nicola, Ruth and Kezia on Wednesday night on STV.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Yes Willie did well, particularly in the first third of the debate. I didn’t hear Patrick Harvie mention the environment once, which tells you a lot. The nurse was clearly the star of the show, but I am actually a bit worried for her now. The cybernats are already at work on her. So unpleasant.

  • David Evershed 22nd May '17 - 1:20am

    There is not a pay freeze for Scottish (or English) nurses.

    In Scotland, as in England, nurses can get incremental rises each year to move through the pay scale as they serve more years. They can also be promoted to the next pay scale.

    Also in Scotland the pay scale has been increase by 1% each year for the last four years.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd May '17 - 1:25am

    Excellent appraisal , I watched some of it and that seems accurate.

    The mere reference to Scottish independence from Nicola Sturgeon drives me to either switch ff or scream, , but I say one thing for her, she is not afraid of a debate , not like the leader of the UK government !!!

  • Sorry David, but there HAS been a pay freeze for public sector workers. Some of the time it’s been set at 0% and more recently we’ve generously been given 1%, well below inflation.

    That some people who start on the lower end of a pay grade may get an increment towards the level they were supposed to be paid in the first place if they have a successful review, is a red herring. Most staff are not eligible for that increment, and the idea that a promotion is an automatic part of the pay increase process to account for inflation is both out of touch and insulting. Restructuring means that there less and less of those higher grade jobs to apply for, so career prospects are worse than ever before – which is another problem to add to the problems of a pay freeze.

    I’m not currently in the NHS, but working in local government, and I’ve had a pay freeze or 1% cap for years. I’m already hugely over-qualified for my job, and entered at the top of the grade, and with no prospects of moving up a grade, have not had, nor will I have any pay progression. When people leave, their posts are deleted, so I’m now doing the work of one and a half people without anyone blinking, because most people are in the same situation if not worse.

    In essence, Scottish public sector workers have had a 13-14% real terms pay cut in the last ten years for doing what is theoretically the same job. I know individual cases where it’s worse, because I know of at least one local authority that increased hours as while raising pay by 0%

    You may be one of those people who think that public sector works are all over-paid and under-worked, and think it’s desirable for our pay to be frozen to bring us back down to a level that you consider to be acceptable. If so, please say as much. However, please bear in mind that public sector workers are getting progressively more angry about it, and we are being balloted for strike action. I’m not convinced any strikes will happen beyond a localised level, but something needs to be done and soon.

    I’m pleased that the LibDem policy is to end the public sector pay freeze, and if we could make more of it, I think we’d pick up a lot of votes.

  • Sorry, I got side-tracked by whether or not I’m imagining my pay freeze.

    I actually thought the teacher made some very good points, and not being prepared to stand for the bluster. Note to politicians – don’t think you’ll get one over a maths teacher by quoting your manipulated figures.

    Much was made of the focus on devolved matters. That was a shame, but almost inevitable given the make-up of the panel. Only one of them was actually standing to become an MP (Harvie), and I think Rennie was the only one who had ever been an MP. I was disappointed that Rennie didn’t get to respond to the man complaining about the funding for amazon, and lack of funding for mental health, given that he led the way on the former, and we have such solid policies on the latter.

    Davidson was definitely struggling to defend a lot of what May is doing. To her credit, this is because I doubt she actually agrees with her on those things, but if you will join the Tories …

    Kezia said a lot of good things, but gabbled a bit in her efforts to get a word in, and was always going to struggle to sound convincingly enthusiastic about Corbyn’s ability to handle Brexit negotiations etc.

    Best bit was watching Prof John Curtice keeping an eye on things in the spin room.

  • It’s a strange thing how political parties develop amnesia when it suits them.

    It was a certain Sir Daniel Grian Alexander, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 2011, who introduced the public sector pay freeze – and then went on to reduce the value of public sector pensions by ‘reforming’ them……………until that point, public sector workers had been one of the largest sectors of Liberal Democrat support.

  • Dave Orbison 22nd May '17 - 8:36am

    And what about pay freezes/caps in England? Didn’t Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander support these 100%?

  • I’m not going to defend historical pay freezes to bail the country out when it bailed the banks out, but surely people can see the difference between what’s supposed to be a temporary measure, and what becomes a long-term policy.

    Five or so years ago, pay was stagnant across sectors, but for several years now, private sector pay has been increasing much faster than that of the public sector, and even those who thought it was OK to freeze pay for a couple of years should be allowed to think that it should stop after ten years without being called hypocritical?

  • @ Fiona Sorry, but it wasn’t temporary – it’s still the same one in force – as was the ‘reform’ to the pensions.

    “By their works shall ye know them”. Matthew 7.16.

  • Richard Underhill 22nd May '17 - 9:18am

    During the 2015 general election the women leaders, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green, did well and embraced afterwards. In this debate, in Edinburgh, Nicola Sturgeon did not kiss Ruth Davidson, but maybe they will meet in Glasgow.

  • Thanks David – that’s rather my point.

    For the first few years, most public sector workers accepted that their pay was frozen and while it wasn’t our fault that the economy was in trouble, there wasn’t any point in complaining because many people had it worse.

    That doesn’t mean we’re still OK with it, and nor should we be. We definitely shouldn’t accept the idea that because some people get pay increments or a promotion that it magically cancels out inflation for all of us. The public sector is in trouble, most pointedly nursing and teachers, and one of the reasons is the pay freeze. It needs to end, and not just to be nice to teachers and nurses, but because we all need teachers and nurses. Except for those who go private.

  • Allan Brame 22nd May '17 - 9:34am

    Policy is not fixed in stone. It depends on context. What might have been appropriate in 2010 may no longer be in 2017

  • @ Fiona I agree with your last post.

    I say it with feeling. I owe my life to the fantastic nurses( as well as to the surgeons and physicians) at Edinburgh Royal. For me they are world class.

    Thank goodness we aren’t subject here to the nonsense of the Lansley Bill in force in England (sadly, supported by most Lib Dem MP’s – but opposed to his credit by Andrew George, and to some extent by Tim Farron).

    Fred the Shread has a lot to answer for and hopefully he will get his comeuppance in the next few weeks.

  • Jayne Mansfield 22nd May '17 - 10:29am

    When 7 day working becomes the norm, it is probable will also have to say goodbye to unsocial hours payments.

    The change in context since 2010 when the Liberal Democrat leadership supported Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill, is that the party then wielded some power, and now it doesn’t, so it can promise anything it chooses.

    Given what Nick Clegg said about the NHS in 2005, it should have come as no surprise that his signature appeared on the White Paper along with that of Andrew Lansley and David Cameron’s and that he voted twice in favour of the bill .

    Those of us who took our eye off the ball and voted Liberal Democrat out of habit in 2010 have only ourselves to blame.
    Free marketeers should never have been entrusted with the Education system and the NHS.

  • The ‘Sun’, hardly a friend of the SNP ran this about the ‘winning nurse’….

    “A NURSE who claimed on last night’s telly election debate that she’s forced to use food banks has online snaps of her dining out on swanky food and bubbly. Audience member Claire Austin, 50, was caught up in a storm after accusing Nicola Sturgeon of failing to adequately fund the health service.
    She blasted the First Minister during the live BBC Scotland clash and said she “can’t manage” on her wages.
    But according to her Facebook entries, she ate out in Edinburgh’s posh Malmaison hotel in February, drank expensive champagne at a birthday party in her house and celebrated New Year with bubbly in the five-star Plaza Hotel in New York…..”


  • Robin Bennett 22nd May '17 - 11:56am

    expats: the “Sun ” in Scotland generally supports the SNP.

    The debate should have been restricted to matters relevant to a Westminster election: the constitution, foreign affairs, defence, migration, welfare and the economy, and not education or health. A considerable body of electors still do not recognise the distinction, which was only mentioned briefly. By allowing half the debate to be about devolved matters, the BBC failed to play its part in ending this confusion.

    We have already seen at the local elections this year that politicians will at the drop of a hat stray into matters which are outwith the powers of the good people who were standing to run local services. This attitude shows a contempt for Scotland’s democratic structures. The BBC should have proper regard to its objects, which are to “inform and educate” as well as entertain, and tighten up its programme management.

  • In comparison to charity workers delivering public services health social care etc; the statutory sector- NHS, social services, teaching, policing etc are treated like royalty, on any comparison of terms and conditions, pay, holiday, training, pensions, they fair much better, anyone ever seen the charity sector strike? wouldn’t that be sight? If the NHS had to meet the financial governance of the charity sector it would be wound up as not sustainable.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd May '17 - 2:39pm

    I agree with lifting the cap, but Tynan has it right too, it is not that we should denigrate the public sector, but. in terrific people, why single out just those , when they are everywhere?

    The private , charity worker, the not for profit charity hospital, yes , they too exist, the helpful shop assistant, etc.

    Always, nurses, singled out, but their situation improved massively under New Labour, too often demonised by this sites critics of the coalition.

    Why should a public transport worker retire at sixty or even sixty five , if the shelf stacker is increasingly seventy odd ?!

  • “Why should a public transport worker retire at sixty or even sixty five , if the shelf stacker is increasingly seventy odd ?!”

    That’s a great slogan guaranteed to win heaps of votes – “Vote Lib Dem and raise everyone’s pension age to over seventy”.

    Errrrrr……….isn’t that what Danny was edging towards ?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd May '17 - 3:14pm


    I was not saying that , at all, just that we should see every individual and group as worthy if they are over worked and under paid!

    I believe in equality of opportunity and greater equality of outcome, not stereotypes, or special interest groups.

    A bus driver working for a private company is no different in occupation to a bus driver doing the same for the council.

    Under any yardstick, what was done to public sector workers during the coalition was a temporary measure, and the pension changes very popular with the wider electorate who do not see why the public sector in fields no more worthy than private , or less , either, should get better treatment in retirement.

    Why is a union protected administrator in a council , give better security than a care worker in a private nursing home ?!

    I f I was involved with those who devised the manifesto and was involved with those who led this campaign, we , I can assure you , would be on twenty per cent plus , as I and many who share views , like mine, are in the mainstream of good , decent , fair minded opinion.

    Not saying you are not, but really, if my stance on staying on the things that now matter not Brexit, had been listened to, ….?!

  • I think people hear what they want to in these debates. The nurse clearly didn’t want to listen to Nicola Sturgeon and wanted to blame the nearest politician for her years of pay freezes – a bit like the lashing-out that the frustrated majority did that caused Brexit. Understandable, maybe, but correct? Come on!
    Unlock it, and you see a Scottish government trying to ease UK austerity within an overall funding framework decided upon by, err, the uk govt that introduced austerity. The nurse clearly was anti-independence which is a shame, because her intervention actually made the case for independence!

    I think too in saying that she had used food banks she did set herself up for investigation of that claim, she may or may not have realised that that was a consequence, but it’s the world we live in now, and she probably made it worse afterwards in saying that she was speaking for all nurses. Fine, she can say that, but then expect others to say, actually, no you’re not.

    Nicola sturgeon dealt with the irate nurse with great calm and empathy, but perhaps her mistake was in not pointing out just where the austerity pay freeezes came from.

    In other news, Willie Rennie did well amongst a lively panel. I thought Ruth Davidson fared badly, and showed her irritation a bit too often especially in the first half. She and Willie got off lightly in that the nurse could have asked them about austerity, and which parties brought it to Westminster 🙂

  • Robin is right. The Sun has consistently and formally supported the SNP in Scotland, whilst simultaneously backing the Tories in England & Wales, and were fully complicit with the idea that voting Labour in England or Wales meant you got the SNP. Meanwhile, in Scotland they were getting everyone to vote SNP! Don’t trust them, and definitely don’t trust them to defend the pay of public sector workers.

    As much as I agree that there are many other professions that deserve good pay and conditions, I have to challenge the idea that nurses get good training. All of the nurses I know have to complete essential training in their own time, frequently paying for it themselves. Teachers I know all have to pay for their own, mandatory professional membership, while most are taking stationery into work because it’s impossible to do their job with what is available. Pitching teachers against charity workers is not something we should be going along with.

    As much as I agree that a debate for Westminster elections should be about reserved matters, it would be naïve to think that blaming Westminster for problems in Scotland is normal. The SNP are leading with the idea that they are needed in order to protect the Scots from the Tory austerity measures. In that respect, it’s absolutely legitimate to remind people that it is that very same SNP who pass on austerity without serious challenge via Holyrood.

    The NHS is fully devolved, and it’s the Scottish Government who has full control of public sector pay, but it’s remarkable how many people do not know this. The Scottish Government cannot have it both ways, and having chosen not to raise taxes to invest in education and health at Holyrood, they expose themselves by insisting that SNP MPs would somehow force a Westminster Government to do so.

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