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The SNP’s Humza Yousaf came under fire at a Glasgow University debate on Monday night, defending his party’s record over further education. The debate, organised by the University’s Dialectic Society, included key members from each Scottish party, with audience members asking questions to the panel.
The debate’s main disagreement came over the SNP’s record in government, with Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie saying “the SNP don’t really do much in government, but when they do, boy, do they cock it up”, accusing the government of mishandling the centralisation of the police force.
Rennie also accused the SNP of severely neglecting further education, saying “college funding is £50 million lower than it was at its peak.”
Yousaf denied the figures, saying “the SNP have protected further education colleges. We have not cut them”. However, Anas Sarwar of Scottish Labour argued that “we have some of the poorest student support in the United Kingdom. 150,000 college places have been slashed by SNP.”
Other speakers included Patrick Harvie (Greens) and Professor Adam Tomkins (Scottish Conservatives). David Clegg, Political Editor of the Daily Record, hosted the event.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davison, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, were unable to attend the event, creating an all male panel. Sarah Macdonald, president of the Glasgow University Dialectic Society, apologised and announced that an all-female debate would be held during International Women’s Week.
Yousaf took the opportunity to suggest that “females should be replaced by females where panelists withdraw.” and that he “dislikes all male panels” despite the SNP choosing two male speakers, initially James Dornan and then later Humza Yousaf, to stand in for Nicola Sturgeon at the event.
Questions were posed about the engagement of 16 and 17 year olds, the centralised police force, the named person scheme, EU membership, tuition fees, as well as college places.
Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Greens, opened by saying that: “This election is the most critical election since the beginning of devolution”. Going on to talk about how a bolder Holyrood, Scotland is able to push the government further than before. Harvie went on to stress how all environmental target had been missed and more needed to be done.
Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Democrats, opening remarks said ” we urgently need to invest more in education, we should put a penny on income tax to support the damaged colleges and schools.” He went on to critique ‘Stop and Search’ policies and the consolidation of Police Scotland, as well as calling for the recruitment of more GP’s and a swift end to fracking.
Anas Sarwar, former deputy leader of Scottish Labour, agreed with many of Rennie’s opening remarks, saying: “it’s unacceptable that we have kids who can’t read and write in when they leave school”. Sarwar also agreed on increasing income tax by 1p and added the Offensive Behaviour Act should be repealed, as it currently discriminates against certain football club fans.
Humza Yousaf SNP, representing the SNP after Nicola Sturgeon was unable to attend, led by calling the referendum “one hell of an experience. The opposition parties say they’ll challenge SNP on their record – good.” Yousaf argued that the SNP will “not rest on their laurels” even though they have a strong record in government, which he argued was reflected in the polls.
Prof. Adam Tomkins, a law professor at the University of Glasgow and Scottish Conservative party candidate, argued that he would stand up to the “soggy social democratic consensus” of Scottish politics. Tomkins disagreed with the SNP’s “illiberal control freakery, obsessive centralising and the disastrous Named Persons Act”.